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Will the class of 2020 be better prepared for uni?

It hasn’t been a typical final year of school for the class of 2020. Instead of shared experiences in classrooms, at school formals and even during exams, Year 12s have had to contend with remote classes and home-based, independent learning.

But like many disruptions during the pandemic, there is a silver lining. Instead of waiting until you reach university to master the digital skills you’ll need to succeed in a tertiary environment – which is very different to high school – and beyond, the class of 2020 is one step ahead.

‘Remote learning for school students has really been about digital learning, and university life is very digital now,’ says Dr Luci Pangrazio, an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Deakin University’s Faculty of Arts and Education.

‘Getting through Year 12 this year is a great victory, and if along the way you’ve learned some new digital skills, it’s bound to put you in a good position for starting university life.’

Promoting digital literacy

As well as reading English texts, doing experiments for Chemistry and practising for the French oral exam – not to mention keeping up with the requirements of how to get into university – the class of 2020 has also had to learn to use a wide range of digital platforms and applications to access classes, learning materials and assessments.

The digital load may seem onerous, but Dr Pangrazio says improving your digital literacy while you’re still at school is great preparation for university, where much of the learning is guided by digital tools.

‘Going to uni opens the floodgates to a lot of new digital experiences, and previous research has shown that new students often find the digital demand a bit of a struggle. Virtually every aspect of university life is now digitised in some way – whether that’s enrolments or lectures and assessments, or even joining clubs and groups,’ she says.

‘The students who do Year 12 this year will have a better sense of what’s involved with university learning as a consequence of remote learning. Some students were probably starting to develop these skills already, while for others there will be huge leaps as far as their digital skills are concerned.’

'Getting through Year 12 this year is a great victory, and if along the way you’ve learned some new digital skills, it's bound to put you in a good position for starting university life.'

Dr Luci Pangrazio,
Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

Managing digital interactions

Spending so much time interacting through digital platforms can be exhausting, but along the way you’ve also acquired valuable skills that will help you better navigate digital interactions like online lectures, tutorials and study sessions when you reach university.

Dr Pangrazio says learning how to change your language and behaviour to suit different platforms – which experts call ‘online style shifting’ – is a skill that the class of 2020 have down pat.

‘The different platforms and applications that students have been on, each with its own set of audiences and expectations – such as Zoom, Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams – require presenting yourself and interacting with others differently,’ she says.

‘Going through that experience, style shifting and making sure your behaviour and interactions are appropriate under the gaze of a teacher, helps ensure appropriateness of online interactions.’

There have also been valuable lessons in managing online privacy, which is really important at university.

‘Troubling Zoom bombing incidents are a really good example of how quickly online accounts can be hacked,’ says Dr Pangrazio. ‘So often these kinds of threats are things that educators talk to young people about. But seeing them firsthand helps young people realise just how poor some of these apps are and how little privacy they have.’

Focusing on self-directed learning

And then there’s the isolation of remote learning and the challenge of keeping yourself motivated. It isn’t always easy, but Dr Pangrazio says this mode of learning, including the technology itself, can help to prepare you for independent learning at university.

‘Learning at university is self-directed, and it requires students to be more self-motivated,’ she says. ‘Going to university can be a big shock for many students because there isn’t that teacher support or ongoing prompting to get work in.

‘Across the board, students this year have needed to be more self-disciplined and organised as a consequence of remote learning, and technology has been a great tool for facilitating self-directed learning.’

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Dr Luci Pangrazio
Dr Luci Pangrazio

Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

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