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How to boost your remote-learning experience

How to boost your remote-learning experience

In the age of coronavirus, at-home learning poses new challenges—and opportunities.

March 17, 2020 at 3:00pm

By now, students have had several days to get used to taking their classes from home. While many have found the transition from physical classroom to virtual classroom a relatively easy one, some have taken a bit longer to get comfortable. 

“At first, it was odd,” sophomore English major Justin Hersey says. He explains that meeting his professor and classmates virtually on the Zoom platform from the comfort of his bedroom in his parents’ house—previously Hersey lived in a dorm on campus—made him feel exposed. “There’s no hiding anything,” he says of participating in discussions from the setting of such an intimate personal space. But soon he got used to it. 

“It’s definitely an adjustment,” he says, “but it’s not as harsh an adjustment as I thought it was going to be. I’m sure by the third session, it will be second nature.”

Hersey appears well on his way to mastering a new learning modality. Meanwhile, it’s everything else that comes along with such a shift that students might find challenging. 

Celine Hoffmann is a senior marketing major who studied for two years on campus before transitioning to all online courses (as opposed to remote courses) as a junior. “The hardest part [of the transition] was making sure to take time out of my day to focus on what I had to do,” Hoffmann says of how learning to schedule coursework around a job and other responsibilities became paramount. Organizing and managing her time took on greater importance when she left behind on-campus courses—and that’s especially true now as students suddenly find themselves thrown into an unprecedented situation.

Hoffmann’s advice to use Google Calendar or a similar resource to stay on top of class time and assignment deadlines is just one of several suggestions that she shared to help students who can no longer learn on campus be successful.

Have a ready workstation
A place to call yours—be it a simple desk or a full-fledged guest room-turned-office—is critical. “Making sure that you have your own space to study helps you be more focused,” Hoffmann says.

Establish a routine
Sleeping in as though you are on vacation will kill your motivation and efficiency. “I’ve been trying to treat my week as a normal school week,” says newly remote Hersey, who continues to set an alarm for morning wakeup. “If you keep the mindset that you’re still in school, you can’t fall victim to [the mindset that] I’m at home to relax and chill.”

Studies show that successful students arise at the same time each day and then follow a schedule that makes sense for them. That might include eating breakfast and calling a friend before sitting and connecting online for classes. Having structure helps many students be productive and purposeful at a time when much of regular life has gone out the window.

Act as though you are leaving the house
Attending class virtually can be done in pajamas, but many people find they are more productive if they behave as though they are meeting people in person. That means showering and dressing—“It’s a good jumpstart to the day,” Hoffmann says—in order to sit in front of a laptop fully ready to attend class. Keeping up one’s appearance, even if it just means putting on a clean shirt, provides a mental boost that can improve one’s attitude toward the task at hand.

Take breaks
Putting in added hours in front of a screen means that many students will miss the physical activity that comes with walking from a campus parking garage to class or the library. The extra time sitting can make people sluggish. Remember to get up and take a walk, “so you don’t get burned out,” Hoffmann says. It will reenergize both mind and body, especially if you can step outside into green space.

Interact with others
The nature of online learning is self-directed and somewhat solitary—a big change for students who are used to attending face-to-face classes. To build a sense of community, Hoffmann reminds students to set up chats through WhatsApp or a similar communication feature on Canvas. While she might never meet her classmates in person, she appreciates the collegiality that tech can help create. “It feels nice to know that there are are other people with you," she says of messaging, “and we encourage each other.”

Stay in contact with professors
Professors are available to students. If you have questions or need help with a class-related matter, use the Canvas tool or email them, Hoffmann says. “Many professors are very, very attentive,” she adds. “It’s really great that I can keep up with them.” 

Maintain a positive attitude
“I think it’s just really important to stay focused, patient and grateful,” Hoffmann says. “We still have our education in our hands. This [situation] is not forever. Take this time to focus on school.” 

Hersey agrees on the need to stay positive. “When I first heard campus was closed, I was upset, and I was upset in a very selfish way,” he recalls. “I was so angry for all the wrong reasons.” Then his mom talked some sense into him, he says. “If moving out [of the dorm] is the worse thing you have to do right now,” she told him, “you are way ahead of the game. You’ve got to take the punches. Roll with what you have.” 

In the end, Hersey took her advice. “This really isn’t that bad,” he says today. “I’m not stuck somewhere. I’m home with my family. I’m safe. We’re keeping each other safe and healthy.”