Written by Dawn Lo

13 August 2021

Everyone has been challenged by the pandemic – both in the way that we work and study. The question is – what have we learned from this experience and how can we apply the skills learned?

We’ve reached out to three of our students to find out how they’ve managed the change to online learning, how they’re coping and how they’re staying motivated to study at home for an extended period of time.


  • Leonie Singer, based in Germany, and completing Term 2 of the Master of Laws (LLM) program at UNSW, while finishing a PhD about inheritance law within multi-parent families at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich,
  • Helen Li, 4th year student completing a Bachelor of Criminology / Criminal Justice (Honours); and
  • Vishal Karnamadakala, 4th year student completing a Bachelor of Laws / International Studies.

What made you choose UNSW Law & Justice?

Helen: The reason why I chose to study Criminology at UNSW was surprisingly simple. I have always been interested in crime films and documentaries. During Year 12, I decided that at university, I wanted to do something that interested me and that’s why I’m here.

Leonie: I chose UNSW Law & Justice because I was intrigued by its internationality; how modern and progressive it is. The wide range of courses provided in the LLM program was a great opportunity for me to explore different areas of the law that I did not come across in my previous studies.

Vishal: I chose UNSW not just because its law program is prestigious and highly ranked, but because it is a great place to learn about how the legal system interacts with broader features of our social world. I wanted a legal education that was not just focused on the ‘black letter’ law, but on understanding how the law changes – or perhaps doesn’t change – to suit the needs of human society. I also knew I wanted to study International Studies, and UNSW is one of the few universities which continues to offer a strong International Studies program.

What has been your learning experience so far? 

Leonie: My learning experience has been great so far. Working with a different law system (I am used to study? civil law) surely has been challenging. However, I really enjoy that challenge. Expanding my views and diving into topics that are new to me has been eye-opening and helped me broaden my understanding of the law. The courses are very interactive which makes it very easy to participate.

Helen: My learning experience has been quite turbulent. Turbulent not in a negative sense, but in the sense that it required me to constantly adapt to new changes. In fact, during the past four years at UNSW – I’ve experienced the semester system, trimester system, hybrid learning (a mix of remote and face-to-face) and now, remote learning. Nevertheless, I feel that learning Criminology has opened new doors for me. It was through this learning experience that I realised where I want to be in the future and what kind of role in society I want to play.

Vishal: I’ve been fortunate to receive a lot of opportunities, but I have also been encouraged to pursue an independent approach to my studies and critical thinking. Learning is best in a social environment, and obviously, that was a bit easier prior to the pandemic. However, because of the smaller seminar-style classes, I feel like I’ve always had a chance to interact with my lecturers personally, to form meaningful friendships with classmates and to pursue a deeper understanding of the topics we have covered. 

How have you managed the transition to remote learning? What are the biggest challenges?

Vishal: Personally, I have managed okay with remote learning, but I do understand that it can be very challenging for people. It can be hard to motivate yourself and stay focused while you’re always at home. Somehow, physically attending university and interacting with others face-to-face creates a sense of routine around your learning and makes it more enjoyable too. Nonetheless, there are things that I do enjoy about online classes, especially all the extra time I have since my 2-3 hours of commuting have been cut back. Wearing PJs while doing classes or assessments has also been great!

Helen: I’m the sort of person who thinks by putting pen to paper and so computers and technology have never really been my forte. When things started moving online, the first things I had to learn was how to use Zoom and other online platforms. Luckily, it wasn’t too difficult. I think my biggest challenge was creating the right space and right mood for study, particularly writing. I found it hard to concentrate when stuck in the same environment for an extended period of time, and when people are constantly on the move around at home. There’re just a lot more things that could distract you when you’re not studying in a classroom environment.

Leonie: Since I am based in Germany and due to border closures, I have already started my program remotely. The biggest challenge for me is the time difference for some classes as there were not many offered online when I enrolled. But the early hours were not too bad! The courses are interactive and interesting, and it leaves me with a great feeling knowing that I have already completed a four-hour lecture and progressed with my studies at 7am! It’s great how UNSW motivates me to get out of my comfort zone. I’m now focusing more on international law and business transactions which is interesting and has widened my understanding of law. 

Have you acquired new skills from studying remotely? Have there been any unexpected benefits?

Leonie: A major benefit of studying remotely for me has been the opportunity to speak up in class and participate. Previously, I did not have the courage to speak in class. Now, it is so much easier to type in the chat box if I have a question or want to share my view. That has allowed me to participate on a whole new level.

Vishal: The added spare time from remote learning has allowed me to explore my interests more thoroughly. I have more time to spend on my hobbies, on extracurriculars and for recreation. Somehow, I have also become more efficient with managing my university workload. I’m certainly not studying any harder than I used to. Rather, I’m learning how to get away with a little less effort without a huge dip in performance. It’s made me realise that sometimes, when it comes to work, less can be more.

Helen: I’ve become more proficient in using technology and social media platforms. But more importantly, I’m finding it increasingly easier to concentrate anytime and anywhere that I wish. I’m happy that I’ve become less picky with study conditions and in a sense, less prone-to-distractions. For me personally, I think this is one of the most valuable skills I’ve acquired from remote learning.

In what ways do you think remote learning has prepared you to join the workforce? 

Vishal: Assuming that a lot of future jobs will operate on a work-from-home basis (or at least partly so), then remote learning prepares you for that quite directly. It teaches you to connect with people despite being physically distant and dealing with technological issues, something which will become increasingly important across most areas of work and especially in legal practice. More broadly, it gives you an understanding of how you work as an individual. You have some more flexibility in terms of how you approach online classes, modules, tasks, and assessment, meaning you can experiment and find a method of learning that works for you. 

Helen: I think remote learning will help me adapt to the new norm in the workplace – transition to online communication and a virtual way of doing things that were traditionally done face-to-face. For example, I’ve learnt how to effectively participate and voice my opinion in an online group setting.  I’ve also found myself more conscious of online manners, such as raising the virtual hand in Zoom before speaking, turning the camera on, and unmuting one’s microphone in small group discussions and so on. I think these will assist me in presenting myself professionally in an online setting when I enter the workforce.

Leonie: Remote learning has prepared me to join the workforce by requiring me to work more independently. With online classes and exams, it is all up to me. I have to organise my studies and my study plan. Another benefit is the training that we get in participating in online classes which is a good preparation for online conferences especially when working internationally.

What tips would you provide to others undertaking remote learning?

Helen: My piece of advice for anyone undertaking remote learning is to ensure that they have a good support system. I think having people around you who can provide you with emotional support is immensely important; especially when remote learning can be a lonely experience. From my experience, keeping connected with those around you even if you’re unable to see them in person really helps combat this feeling of loneliness.

Another tip for anyone tossing up between watching those pre-recorded lectures now or leaving it for another day – don’t wait! Remote learning provides the alternative option to learn later but I think it’s important to stay committed throughout your learning and to avoid laziness. The thing is, the more you’re engaged with the course content, the more you enjoy the course and the more you want to learn about it. The cycle goes on. If you must do it eventually, why not choose to do it now, why not choose to do it without the last-minute stress?

Leonie: Structure is key so my number one tip would be to have a set schedule – not only for the online classes but also for your study sessions. Have set break times and approach your learning and study experience as if you were physically on campus. Another tip would be to try and reach out to other people from your class via social networks. Even if there is no campus life right now, it feels nice to chat with like-minded people who are going through the same experiences as myself.

Vishal: Firstly, do not neglect the importance of time away from your studies. It can be hard to maintain work-life boundaries when work and life must occur under the same roof. But do whatever you can to keep this split because it is important for your wellbeing. For instance, if your living situation allows, separate your ‘work’ space from your ‘recreation’ space, and force yourself to spend time for recreation as frequently as is possible. Secondly, try to establish a little routine, even though you’ll probably break it at times. It can be as simple as sitting down with a cup of coffee in front of a textbook for an hour at a particular time of day – even if you end up reading no more than a page. Lastly, accept and acknowledge that parts of the experience will be hard, but remind yourself that even hard things are achievable. 

Image: (Left to right) UNSW Law & Justice students Helen Li, Vishal Karna and Leonie Singer.