In response to the disruption to face-to-face education in recent years, many more students around the world have opted for distance learning. Open University (OU) students are accustomed to studying independently and connecting with people online. But at this time of year when the daylight hours are short, the weather is cold, and social interactions tend to be more limited, keeping motivated to study can be more difficult.
In this short blog, Ewe and Lidia from the OU in Scotland’s Access, Participation and Success Team share their experiences of studying with the OU and of building communities through the Big Blether online events.
Ewe: I’m no stranger to feeling a lack of motivation to study, especially after the Christmas break. Since this is my first year studying with the OU, I am still trying to develop my own study plan and ways to keep myself going and inspired. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised about the level of tutor support and peer support from fellow students at the OU.
Lidia: I am not studying right now myself, but I have spent a number of years studying with the OU and I always found the beginning of the year the most difficult time from the point of view of motivation. It’s dark, cold and the joy and community of the holidays seem far behind. You tend to worry more about bills and try to reduce spending, so going out and meeting people is not always the first thing on my mind. It’s really hard to get going on that Tutor Marked Assessment (TMA) in what sometimes feels like a void, without any face-to-face support from a community of other students.
E: I absolutely agree. I have a TMA coming up myself and it’s a real struggle to wrap my head around the subject, especially since I’ve been unwell lately. But I felt so supported by my tutor who encouraged me to take care of my wellbeing first and of my physical health, so that I can enjoy my studies and writing my assignments. I decided that asking for an extension on my assignment would give me the opportunity to recover properly, to be able to allow myself some head space and write to the best of my ability, rather than overstress myself.
L: You are right, I found speaking to my tutor really helpful in the past and it’s always useful if you have a community of other students who you can chat to and exchange study tips with.
When I was studying online, a few of us formed a ‘study group’. It was great for exchanging notes and ideas, but we would very often just talk about more life in general. It was great to know that there were others who understood exactly what studying online and balancing life, family and work involved. I think that sense of community is really important to keep us going.
E: That’s why we are really keen to support students in Scotland to create those little pockets of community outside of their own module forums. The Big Blether online events are a good example of this – they started a few years ago informally, led by one of our students in an attempt to connect OU students from all over Scotland and grew organically into a series of events, with support from the OU.
Since becoming a student, I have definitely benefited from attending the Big Blethers. How about you?
L: Certainly. As a member of staff now, I find it really useful to understand students’ experiences and concerns. We are fortunate to work with passionate and supportive colleagues from the Student Support Team, who join us in the sessions to answer students’ questions in real time. We are able to provide some ideas and resources, but it is often the students themselves who have the best tips on how to manage stress, low motivation and other study related issues.
E: Yes, absolutely.Having an occasional blether is really helpful to exchange ideas or to have that ‘lightbulb moment’.
L: That’s why we do it, essentially. I am really inspired by OU students and I am considering studying again with the OU, seeing how much everyone is getting out of it.
About the authors: Ewelina Grzanka is an Engagement Support Co-ordinator and Lidia Dancu is a Student Mental Health Co-ordinator at the OU in Scotland.
‘The next Big Blether for OU in Scotland students, ‘The Big Blether – Student Motivation Special’ will take place online on Tuesday 1 March 2022, 7.00-8.00pm. Register for The Big Blether by the end of Monday 28 February to take part.
There is also more information about support available to OU in Scotland students, including mental health and wellbeing support, on the OU in Scotland’s Support and services for students webpage.