After two years of getting used to learning over Zoom and Teams, a return to in-person teaching for everyone is hopefully within sight. Advice on Oxford University’s website states that “In line with the latest UK Government guidance, we are planning to provide most teaching in-person next academic year, as normal. This will be enhanced by high-quality online resources and, in some instances, online teaching. We will also have contingency plans if additional restrictions are in place or if local circumstances make this necessary.
Whatever combination of remote and in-person teaching the year ends up taking, university learning is generally done more independently, with more time spent on individual research rather than direct teaching. This is particularly true for humanities students, while those studying for science degrees typically have more contact time. It’s therefore more important to ensure that you manage your own time, as this is likely when the majority of your work will be done; for some people working “nine to five” might be the best solution, while others prefer to take a break between shorter sessions. If you have any questions, there may be a representative on your JCR who deals with academic affairs, or else tutors can help to answer any questions you might have.
The type of learning students do can also vary widely depending on the degree. For humanities students, the library might feel like a second home, with a reading list as the main guide for the week’s work. Weekly tutorials are the main point of contact, while lectures are also put on. For science students, there may be problem sheets as well as essays, as well as labs and more frequent lectures to attend. Every degree, however, involves tutorials, where a small group of students discuss their work with an expert. The best advice for tutorials is to dive in, even if you’re unsure of what a particular question is asking; tutors appreciate students who are engaged and making an effort to apply what they have learnt, and are happy to help you if you’re struggling. Tutorials are often a good way of getting to look around other colleges as well, but if needed you can request them to be held online.
The format of tutorials is similar whether online or in person, but when it comes to lectures, the recorded format means that you can often watch at your leisure. There is also an option to slow down or speed up a lecture, as well as pausing and rewinding. Staying focussed on a lecture is sometimes more difficult in your room rather than a crowded hall, but gives you more flexibility in deciding when to watch the lecture and how you wish to take your notes. Some people prefer to continue to ‘timetable’ lectures, even when they are online, to avoid having to panic watch several on x2 speed at once (of which I of course have no experience), but for those with better time management skills this might not be an issue.
Where you work best is something else to explore in your first year: some people prefer to work in their rooms, while some people find themselves less distracted in libraries. Check out the rest of this guide to learn about cafes, libraries, and other iconic spots for that inevitable essay crisis.
The past couple of years have been nothing if not unusual, and have put unique stresses on students. Although it will hopefully be possible to have a more normal university experience this year, Oxford is always intense. It is therefore important to keep a good work-life balance. Luckily, there’s plenty within the city and the surrounding areas to distract yourself from work. Covid permitting, this year should see more indoor activities opening up in time for Michaelmas (winter) term. For retail therapy, Westgate is the best bet, which you can follow up with ice skating at the ice rink opposite. There are also various colleges to look around and compare unfavourably with your own, as well as other university buildings such as the University Church, where you can climb the medieval tower. In summer punting is a popular and very ‘Oxford’ activity, with most colleges having a supply of punts to hire.
If you want to get out of Oxford for the day, Blenheim Palace can be reached by car or bus, and is great for picnics if you don’t want to go to Christ Church meadows or University Parks. The grounds of the palace can be accessed for free, although a ticket has to be bought to enter the building itself. Getting the train from Oxford to London is also relatively quick and makes getting to the capital easy.
If you ever need any extra support while at Oxford, there’s a range of services provided by the university and by the colleges. Members of your JCR should be able to point you towards resources and help, while the university also provides support. Counselling services can be booked and are available via video call, phone call and text. Information about welfare at the university can be found at https://www.ox.ac.uk/students/welfare.
Image credit: Penn State via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).