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5 questions you might have in your first few weeks at uni

A photo of University of Newcastle students walking on Callaghan campus, with bright blue, yellow and pink colours edited into the trees

It’s not your fault. During the whirlwind that was Orientation – meeting your peers, sussing out the best coffee joints – you probably didn’t think to write down every single piece of info coming at you.

But no need to stress – turns out, plenty of questions new students have in the first few weeks are pretty common.

Here are answers to five of the most common questions asked by new students.

1. What is Canvas and why do I need to know about it?

Canvas is a consistent, intuitive user interface, providing you with a premium learning experience. Your learning material and course content is located on Canvas. Your courses will be consistent to navigate allowing you time to focus on your studies.

Canvas has some great features including:

Once your 2023 courses are available, you will see these listed on your Canvas Dashboard when you log in.

Information on how to access and use Canvas will be provided to you when you start studying.

2. Do I need to buy textbooks for my courses?

This is very much a course-by-course question – some will have textbooks containing your required readings, others may simply have a course reader. Your course coordinator may make these available as a PDF in the course site, and they are also available for purchase from the University Print Centre.

To find out whether you need textbooks for any of your courses this semester, check out your Course Outline, which your Course Coordinator will usually post to Canvas the week before the semester starts.

Info on the necessary readings and textbooks will also be provided at your first lecture (but, seriously, you’re reading this online – just go to Canvas now and get ahead of the game).

As for where you can purchase your textbooks, Callaghan has a School Locker on campus. However, if you’re looking for a slightly thriftier option, there are plenty of ways to get second-hand books, including:

3. What do I do if I miss a class or know I’m going to be late?

There are going to be issues that arise that mean you are running late or simply can’t make class – think illness, accident or emergency. It’s fine, it happens, and in most cases you don’t need to contact anyone or explain yourself.

However, some courses have attendance as a compulsory aspect. Depending on the course, if you miss a certain number of classes per semester, you will not be eligible to complete the course. Similarly, some courses have a quiz in each class that counts towards your final mark (check your Course Outline to find out if you are in this boat).

In situations such as these, you should contact your tutor or Course Coordinator as soon as you can and talk about what you need to do.  You may need to apply for adverse circumstances.

4. What is a Course Outline and what do I use it for?

A Course Outline is (you’ll never guess) the outline of your course!

Briefly, it’s worth highlighting that a course (which you might also call a ‘subject’) is different to your program (which you’ll probably refer to as being your ‘degree’). So if you’re studying four courses (subjects) this semester, you’ll have four different Course Outlines – each of which is easily found in Canvas.

As for what you’ll actually use your Course Outline for, well, it’s one of the best resources you’ve got, as it provides an easily digestible, week-by-week breakdown of your studies.

Along with it providing you details on what textbooks and readings you’ll need for your course, the Course Outline also has info on what each week of your studies will involve, when your assignments are due, and how each individual assessment is weighted.

Basically, if you’re ever unsure about something – anything – with regards to your course, this is your first port of call.

If you still can’t answer your questions, don’t hesitate to contact your Course Coordinator, but the vast majority of vital info will be found on the pages of your Course Outline.

5. What’s the difference between semester planning and weekly planning and why do I need to do both?

As with any major goal you set, the best way to go about achieving it is to break it down into little goals.

And that’s certainly the case with your studies – successfully completing the semester is the end goal, but it’s much easier to manage if you think about it in terms of what needs to be done each week to get there.

So, a weekly plan is outlining what you’ve got from Monday to Sunday each week. Block it out with your classes, lectures and other uni commitments, extra-curricular activities, work commitments, and don’t forget to give yourself a bit of time to hang out with friends and family – or just chill out.

On the flipside, a semester plan is a bit of forecasting – in broad brushstrokes, this plan will include when your assessments are due and how much weight they carry (make sure you’re not spending days and weeks on something that’s only worth 5%). By having all your semester’s major tasks in a single, easy to comprehend plan, you can ensure you’re prepared for busy periods, and then adjust your upcoming weekly plans accordingly.

For more info on how to successfully plan, including where to find easy-to-implement templates, check out Academic Learning Support.

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