An Introduction to Off-Campus Study
Guest reporter Chris shares his experiences as an off-campus student and offers some advice about how to get the most out of it.
Off campus study (OCS), otherwise known as "distance education", is becoming increasingly popular these days. Very little is known about what it actually involved in being an off-campus student, however.
In a nutshell, OCS is when a student is enrolled in a university course but doesn't attend the university in person. Instead, they work from home, completing their work and then sending it off to the university for marking.
Most universities and TAFE colleges in Australia offer some off-campus study options. If you're interested in off-campus study, you should check out the website of the university or TAFE you're interested in to see what off-campus options they offer.
How Off-Campus Study Works
The basic parts of university study are lectures, tutorials, exams and set reading. So how do these things work when you're not travelling to your university in person? It's actually quite simple.
Lectures and Tutorials
There are two main types of contact with your tutors at university: lectures and tutorials.
Lectures can be anywhere between 50 minutes to two hours long. In a lecture students all gather as a group to sit and listen to a lecturer talk about the subject they're studying. As an off-campus student, you are able to listen to lectures online - they are recorded and often uploaded within hours of the lecture being given.
Tutorials are much more interactive than lectures. They involve discussing information you have learned in your lectures so that you can deepen your understanding.
As an off-campus student, you will obviously not be attending these tutorial sessions in person. Instead you'll take part in online interactive forums in which you can discuss lecture topics with other off-campus students.
These forums are often supervised by a tutor who can contribute to the discussion in order to help students understand the content better.
Much of your assessment will take the form of assignments. These assignments will vary in format from essays to report and power point presentations. Different subjects favour different forms of assessment. You can often look at the unit online before enrolling in it to find out how you will be assessed.
To complete your assignment you will need to call upon the information you've already been given in lectures and tutorials, as well as undertaking further research to get a really in-depth understanding of the set topic.
It's essential to reference all of the different sources you use in your assessments. This can be quite confusing and frustrating the first few times, but once you get used to the procedure, it is quite easy. Universities often offer extensive guides on how to reference your assignments, which can be followed pretty easily.
Once you have finished your assignment you will either have to send it through the mail or submit it online. When you start your unit you will be told how to submit your work.
Exams and Set Reading
Many subjects also have exams, which you obviously can't do at home. It would be quite difficult if students had to make their way to the University campus for this, though, especially when some students at Australian Universities are based overseas!
Luckily, there is no need to commute for exams. If you have to do an exam, your universities will make special arrangements for you to sit your exams locally, which usually means at another university campus that is closer to you.
Finally, any university course requires its students to complete a broad range of reading. Off-campus students are given easy access to these reading materials via mail and over the internet.
The Good Things About OCS
There are many advantages to OCS, the main one being flexibility. As an off-campus student I know that being able to set my own hours for completing study, rather than having to schedule my life around classes, has been a major advantage.
Many off-campus students have full time jobs, families and other commitments. They find that attending university at set times doesn't fit their overall schedule, which is why many choose to study off-campus.
Another major advantage to OCS is that there is no need to relocate to live near the university. In many people’s circumstances this is very helpful - they may have commitments that mean they cannot leave their home town. They may not be able to afford accommodation near their university, which can be quite expensive.
The Bad Things About OCS
One of the key challenges with OCS is procrastination. Because of the many distractions when working at home, it can be very difficult to fully engage with your schoolwork.
There are ways to deal with this problem, though. It's up to you to find out what works best for you, though.
Some people find it easier to focus if they have a special study area. By having this space set aside only for study, many people find it becomes quite easy to begin working as soon as they sit down in that space.
You may find that there is nowhere suitable for this kind of area in your house, so you might have to make your primary study area somewhere outside your home, like a public library. This approach works quite well for many people who find they cannot focus properly in their home for various reasons.
I'm personally a big fan of motivational quotes. Whenever I feel like watching TV rather than studying I think of the quote: "Don't let what you want to do now stop you from what you want to do most." This quote along with a few others, helps get me motivated to work.
Quotes like this are brilliant because they are easy to remember and powerful. I strongly recommend finding some quotes that will inspire you to work whenever you feel like procrastinating.
Some General Advice
Here's some general advice for making the most of OCS.
Check Your Internet Connection
As an off-campus student you will be using the internet for a great deal of your schoolwork. That means it's important to make sure your current internet plan will support all the extra downloads you will be doing (lectures, reading materials, etc.).
Submit Your Work Early
I cannot stress enough the importance of submitting assignments early, because computers seem to have a handy trick of crashing two minutes before you need to submit your assignment, forcing you to miss your deadline.
Allow Enough Time
Student advisors at Deakin University say that the number one challenge for off-campus students is balancing study, work and family. Many people do not realise that you will probably need to spend between 10 and 12 hours on each unit you're studying every week, so it can be a good idea to only take on one or two units in the beginning to make sure you can handle the workload in amongst your other commitments.
Suss Things Out First
Before enrolling in any course, it's a good idea to attend an information session or to talk to a course advisor about the different services the university offers and how well their course requirements will fit in with your personal schedule.
OCS is Challenging but Rewarding
I am nearly through my first year of OCS after choosing to stay home due to family commitments. My degree will take a total of four years to complete and when I finish I will be a qualified secondary school teacher.
I have already been pushed far out of my comfort zone. It has not always been easy to stay motivated, but by keeping my end goal in sight I have been able to persevere and have learned that I am capable of overcoming adversity. I have a deep sense of satisfaction from that.
If you're considering OCS but you're worried about their capacity to keep up, I would suggest that you examine your motivation for doing it. Your motivation might be as simple as having a strong interest in a specific topic or chasing after a dream career, but you have to keep your reason for taking on OCS in mind to keep you going when times are tough.
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