12 things you need to do to flourish in your remote college assignments

The number of online assignments facing students this year can be daunting - but these simple tips will ease some of the pressure

A written assignment for college brings with it many challenges. You receive the assignment brief, the lecturer supplements it with a questions and answers session and you start to tackle the task. But it’s not always straightforward as each piece of writing can present a variety of key considerations.

Now, in the midst of a remote learning environment due to Covid-19, written tasks seem to be more prevalent than ever before. Back in March when learning swiftly moved online, learners were required to complete additional written tasks in many instances to replace seated examinations.

Most got through the process, in the hope that everything would return to normality on campus for this current academic year.

But, as much of the learning remains remote and the virtual learning environment (VLE) has never been as popular, there are many things to consider when tackling the college assignment remotely.


1. Engage with the VLE!

In the past, virtual learning environments were primarily used to post lecture notes, assignment briefs and general course or module information. Now, in many courses it is the main point of contact with the lecturer and is the central point for submitting assignments.

Teaching staff are engaging with the VLE more than ever and many are engaging in two-way communication: uploading more course material, frequenting it more regularly, facilitating a forum, responding to emails through the VLE, organising quizzes etc. Links to many of the online classes are placed in a prominent place on the VLE module page so there is no avoiding it if you want to access live or recorded lectures!

2. The basics of academic writing are the same

Just remember that although many things have changed in the new normal, the basics required to write your assignment remain the same. For example, good punctuation, grammar and structure are all vital. Adhering to guidelines set by lecturers is still as important as ever.

3. Avail of all support available

With the pressure of additional writing tasks on many programmes, some third level colleges are making available additional writing and tutoring supports. These vary from one college to another. In some colleges, course leaders or individual lecturers will present specific writing support sessions themselves, while in others a member of the writing support staff will facilitate.

Some colleges, like AIT, run workshops and seminars, on Zoom, tailored to support the needs of learners, such as interactive seminars on tackling your writing assignment or a 30-minute presentation on reflective writing, followed by a questions and answers session.

Many colleges invite learners, either individually, as a class or through the class representative, to submit ideas for presentations which will be tailored to the specific needs identified.

4. Referencing guide

Referencing and the use of the relevant referencing guides is very important. The first thing to find out is what referencing guide applies to your module/programme, such as Harvard, Vancouver, Chicago, MLA, APA or IEEE.

Each bibliography follows a standardised format and there are differences between each. Get a copy of it and take note of the areas you are likely to use i.e. how to reference a journal article or how to reference lecture notes. Many learners have difficulty tackling referencing initially but once they get used to applying it, it becomes a part of the writing process.

If your college provides support, specifically for referencing, then avail of it.

5. Avoid plagiarism

Plagiarism is when you present somebody else’s work as your own. Familiarise yourself with your college’s specific policy. Many lecturers explain it in class or there are resources on the virtual learning environment. Attend any workshops that are being organised, particularly those suggested by your lecturer. You don’t want to be penalised for unintentional plagiarism, because you weren’t clear on the guidelines.

6. Contribute during  online sessions

It may be daunting initially but it is really important to contribute during the online classes. For many people it is easy to turn off the camera, mute the microphone and listen in. Others are happy to contribute when they can. And they are right! It is important to do your bit to enrich the learning experience.

Turn on the camera, where possible, open the microphone, where there is no background noise, and take part, particularly in the breakout rooms. In some modules, there are marks built in for attending and participating.

7. Check your lecturers’ availability

Okay, so you don’t have the opportunity to corner your lecturer at the end of class to check important points relating to your course work. The online communication can be equally beneficial- once you know how your lecturer, tutor or supervisor is approaching it.

Find out how your lecturer likes to communicate, in the absence of their office hours. Are they happy to set up drop-ins on Zoom or Teams? Are they available for phone calls? Are they going to respond to emails about a particular assignment, for example, during a specific time each week?

It is important to establish their availability, rather than frantically try to phone their office an hour before a deadline.

8. Bounce back when things go wrong

The temptation to blame Covid-19, or poor internet, or a dodgy laptop, or technical glitches may be very real! Let’s face it, everyone is going to encounter some difficulties regarding online learning, but just try to overcome them as best you can.

If your internet goes down in the middle of a class, the chances are it will be recorded, or the slides will be available afterwards, or the lecturer is happy to do a recap, or a classmate will help out. There is always someone available to help . . .just ask!

9. Read your emails

The volume of emails has increased for most people due to the move online. In the past it was easier to ignore emails as there was a good chance you would hear about important notices, events etc.

One of the good things about the remote delivery is that there are additional seminars, supports, information sessions etc., the majority of which are notified through email. Maybe it’s a useful information briefing organised by the students’ union, or a questions and answers session set up by the access office, it may be a last minute Zoom drop-in on referencing, or a seminar outlining tips on how to cope with online learning . . . By and large everything is free and all are accessible from your home.

10. Manage your time effectively

There are two ways of looking at this in the online learning environment. There are additional writing tasks on many programmes, in lieu of assignments and as a result learners are under huge pressure for time. On the other hand time is freed up from the commute that once was.

So, rather than feel overwhelmed by looming deadlines coming in all directions, look at it as the luxury of being able to complete the work from home, supported by a range of online resources. It is still important to divide out your time effectively and seat realistic goals.

Leave time aside for editing and proofreading your writing tasks, which are vital steps in the writing process. Try and meet your deadlines and try to avoid seeking extensions where possible.

11. Writing practice

I am often asked the question: how can I improve my writing? Simple answer: Practice!

Little and often can make a huge difference. For example, start a blog, or a weekly reflective essay. That 20 - 30 minutes every few days can make a huge different to your overall writing. It can help to start the thought process (thus helping to combat writer’s block!), can assist with structuring a piece of writing and can also help you to see both your strengths and weaknesses which will be a huge help with tackling graded writing tasks as part of your course work.

12. Set up or get involved in a writers’ support group

Writing can be lonely, particularly in the current pandemic when contacts are limited. But it doesn’t need to be. Why not set up a support group to talk about your writing, to discuss the various writing projects you are working on, to discuss ideas? Critical feedback is invaluable and is an excellent learning experience. Group together a group of friends, or classmates, or colleagues, set up an online meeting and start talking about the writing, It might help to make it easier to tackle.

Emer Connolly is AIT’s academic writing tutor