Should I take a Cloud course? Notes from a first year Cloud student.

Everyone warned me against being a Cloud student — from doing my studies online. “It takes discipline!”, “you won’t see anyone!”, “you won’t have access to your teachers!”. Let me assure you: these statements are true. My first trimester as a cloud student ended this month, and as my assessment results begin to slowly roll in, I’ve some notes for any students looking to complete their bachelor (or maybe any other degree) online. (Assuming COVID-19 hasn’t already forced your studies online.)

Here’s some context to my own studies: I chose to be a cloud student over travelling long distance to campus — I still live at home with my family. I study during the day, utilising my diploma studies timetable — my studies begin each day at 9am thru midday, followed by lunch, then next class begins at 1pm until 4pm. This keeps my day in line with the rest of my household and also allows for me to continue to work evenings.

Necessary equipment

Cloud study at home differs from your average homework: trying to complete all of your taskwork on your couch will leave you restless and easily distracted. Look to set up:

My desk set-up.
  • Desk & desk chair
  • Computer monitor & keyboard, assuming you only own a laptop
  • Bookshelves (plural)
  • Printer/access to a printer (Officeworks)
  • Lighting

The last one is vitally important. Studying from your bed is great the first two, maybe three times, but for the sake of your productivity and your mental health: don’t do it. Your desk is your workspace; keep it properly lit, tidy, and do most of your work here. Move to your couch for homework, reading, or essay writing, but for seminars? Your desk is where it’s at.

Communication with others

In my months studying at my desk, I’ve spoken to official university reps verbally just three times — all over the phone to sort out administration issues. Office reps are the only ones from my uni who know what I sound like. I’ve interacted with one of my teacher through live lectures, where she spoke and the rest of us typed. I’ve received a brief response from another of my teachers when I asked what to do regarding a group assignment member — three days after I’d sent it.

Cloud studies are vastly different to how my diploma was delivered. In 2019, I walked into a dedicated classroom, knew my teachers’ names, spoke to them before, during, and after class. In 2020, I couldn’t tell you their names, and I’ve rarely interacted with them.

So how do I get my “allocated social interaction” for the week? Well, my TAFE mates from last year (who took on the Certificate 4) are now doing the diploma course. Prior to COVID-19, we spent Wednesday mornings playing Dungeons and Dragons at the TAFE campus. Due to the pandemic, this concluded, but the Facebook messaging group lives on, and I interact with them weekly. Outside of them, I have other long-time friends I can fall back on: my high school mates now both have Discord, and I have an American friend I use Google Hangouts to chat to near-daily. I’m a member of Starbase 118, and play Star Trek RPG — which has introduced me to a bunch of people I’d likely have never interacted with before (mind you, I’ve been PBEMing for about a decade now…). Then there is my workplace: I work in hospitality, and though COVID-19 killed that dead, work has begun to slowly trickle in, and we’ve spent the last couple of weeks deep-cleaning the kitchen and front-of-house. I was so excited to see someone other than my family, I may have turned up for work when I shouldn’t have.

If you do not have a wide network of people, you likely will struggle. Though I am an introvert, I like to listen to other people. My RL best friend can write paragraphs upon paragraphs about games, and though I often cannot contribute to these paragraphs more than a few sentences (and I feel bad about that), the fact that they are composed and are there for me to read is a fucking godsend in the ‘sanity’ department. Sometimes to the point where one day I hope to lay my head in his lap and just listen to them talk about something they’re passionate about.

I guess we’re getting off track.

No, you will not have contact with your teachers to the same extent you did in highschool or your campus learning. Yes, the university will probably promote other means of communication — for my uni, it’s through these awful, awful forum boards.

You need the courage to pick up the phone and call the campus when something, anything goes wrong. Late last month, a freak lightning bolt struck my NBN dish and killed my internet. This is very problematic for cloud students. I had contingency plans: in the event of blackouts; I planned to go to my town’s public library, or my TAFE’s library, to get work done. Except, COVID-19 had shut all public places with free Wi-Fi access down! That left me in the lurch. So, when my father shouted “the net’s well and truly dead!” at 8am, I dug my head into my pillow for half an hour until my campus offices opened. I phoned the office, explained what was happening. “I’m trying not to freak out while I tell you this,” I said to the lady on the other end of the line, “I’m just not sure what to do.”

Be kind to yourself,” she told me.

I never realised how important that statement was until an office lady was privy to the growing panic in my voice on a Wednesday morning.

Studying

The nitty-gritty of my studies centre around reading. I must have read thousands upon thousands of words, be they in books, essays, journals, power-point slides, or even ones of my own composition: such is the nature of a Bachelor of Creative Writing. This is how about 70% of my course was delivered to me. As the reading level advanced into the ‘scientific journals’ area, I set myself up with a screen-reader — a Google Chrome plug-in called Read Aloud. It’s been a god-send, and I highly recommend for those who were subjected to the “lets read this chapter aloud together!” style of learning in years past.

My university uses a central hub for all students, not just Cloud, to access class resources. But as a Cloud student, you will probably live on this website. Here, you will find all of your readings, you assessment information, seminars, lecture times, and anything else I’ve missed. This is also where you upload your assessments and receive your grades. Everything is in one place.

I’ve a mixed reception to this central hub for all of my units, though COVID impacted how they were utilised by my teachers. One of my units stopped running for a week to allow teachers and students to situate themselves with the new normal, pushing all work back. Their hub was already immaculately organised and user-friendly. Another of my units kept chugging along, and its hub is so poorly structured I take up to half an hour to locate what I want. Though both are on the same site, how teachers organise their materials is certainly a mixed bag and is not perfect.

The only time I got direct feedback from teachers regarding my work was within assessment grades. Whether it is comprehensive feedback is dependent on several things: whether your unit has many students, your teacher has the time to sink into assessment feedback, or if you’ve bombed spectacularly. It can take almost an entire month to receive feedback — the final assessment tasks for one of my units was due 3 June, and I received my grade on the 25th. There was no comprehensive feedback given for this task (but I did score an 85%).

If you need help understanding something, you need to ask questions early. Contact your teacher, or talk out the issue with a mate. Which reminds me; I need to tell one of my TAFE mates that I scored an 82% on the group assessment he suggested I flub. It was an excellent suggestion. Which also conveniently leads me into my next point:

Group work (yes, it’s still a thing)

I don’t know why it’s a thing for Cloud students, but it’s a thing. And let me tell you; it is as painful online as it is in person. For my group work this trimester, I had three stereotypes to contend with:

  • The stickler for the assessment rules
  • The one that’s clueless
  • The one that never shows up

I won’t get into my frustrations, but we communicated through our uni’s awful forum boards I mentioned earlier before moving to Facebook. Nobody likes group work, so try to approach it as you would in a classroom: with your teeth grit, your frustration building under your skin, and your microphone muted while you scream into a pillow.

Is studying on the Cloud for me?

It’s up to you. If you can make it work, I’d say go ahead and try it. My uni leaves the door open for me to head to campus and take classes on-site whenever I’d like. This may be an option for you too. There is unfortunately yes or no answer to this question, because there will always be a “but, this” tagged on the end — some overarching complication that may make things difficult for you.

I can’t answer this question for you. Use your best judgement, consult with your school advisors (though, let the record state, I never consulted mine. 😛 )

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