As finals week approaches at many colleges and universities, students across the nation find themselves unexpectedly taking online courses from home or nearly empty campuses and wondering how to navigate perhaps their most stressful semester ever.
Looking for advice to give her students, Professor of English Lisa Woolley found that most suggestions about online learning assumed that students had enrolled in an online course. Campus newspapers that addressed our current emergency usually turned to students who had completed online courses successfully. Although their experience might help other students , their advice did not always seem applicable to those who suddenly found themselves in technologically-mediated courses that were not originally intended to be online.
Professor Woolley therefore asked her students in ENG 210 Advanced Exposition to share what they have discovered about succeeding in these new modalities, and as a class they produced this article.
Find a quiet space
Freshman Julia Johnson suggests one way to finish your converted-to-online-course successfully is to find a quiet space. It is difficult to work in a household full of people, especially when you have gotten into the routine of completing your work in a library, study room, or dorm room. “Find a space somewhere in the house where you can kind of sneak away from the chaos of your family members,” she recommends. Turn this space into a peaceful, organized space where you can tune in and focus on your work. Make sure this area is free of distraction; maybe use this place as a no-phone zone. Designating an area to be your quiet study space is a smart way to ensure that you’ll be able to focus and finish your converted-to-online courses successfully.
First-year student Elizabeth Rentsch added that it can be difficult to transition from the quiet sanctuary of one’s dorm room, a study room, or a library on campus to the multitude of distractions that can present themselves in one’s own home. In order to complete this transition smoothly, set up a space that is far enough away from the temptations, charge your phone on a different floor of your house, turn off your phone’s notifications, and place your phone on an item where it will be hard to reach. Setting up a quiet space where you feel comfortable completing your assignments and are free from distractions is beneficial in maintaining focus and motivation as you finish your converted-to-online-classes triumphantly.
Set a designated time to do assignments
Freshman Hannah Deline advises students to keep a bit of normalcy during online learning; setting away a designated time to do work is helpful. Keeping a schedule is important to maintain focus and avoid distractions. “In my own experience, I usually try to do my morning classes all before the afternoon and then my evening classes in the evening. It is important to remember to reward yourself while you are working. Taking breaks is necessary to ensure that you are doing your best work,” she suggests.
First-year student Rachel Staley adds that understanding yourself and when you are most productive during the day helps tremendously. “Personally, I am not a morning person, and so my ideal work time is sometime in the early afternoons for a variety of reasons. I usually have to work nights, so knowing that when I come home and I will be tired makes me understand that it is better for me to get my work done during the day rather than at night. The nighttime makes me tired in general, so late at night ideally is not the best either. Throwing on some gentle music helps as well, so learning yourself and what patterns are best for you to work with are ideal to completing the semester comfortably.”
For those of us who are essential employees during this time, junior Olivia Shirk suggests that it helps to be clear with your workplace that there are certain hours that must be dedicated to schoolwork. “In my case, I work mornings and do my schoolwork in the afternoon, as I have all afternoon and evening classes,” she says. “It makes for a grueling week, but it maintains that designated time for work and for school. This leaves your weekends and days off to be dedicated to other things.”
In order to stay on top of deadlines, Staley recommends that having a dedicated calendar and work space is essential. “A calendar will help those who understand things visually out the most, like myself,” she advises, “because it makes me able to clearly see what is due on a certain day and also at what time. This way, I know what to expect and also know how to plan my day out better. I still have to work, so knowing what things are due and how difficult they may be helps me to plan around my work schedule so I know to get something done sooner or later, and it also helps me to know when I have time for a little break.”
Chunk your assignments/classes
Sophomore Adriane Markle’s advice: Chunk your assignments/classes. “Looking at all the work one has to do daily with multiple classes, online schooling can feel overwhelming,” she admits. “Break assignments down into smaller pieces and take a brief break after completing each class so you can stave off feeling overwhelmed. For example, I have a week to complete three sections of math. I do one Tuesday, one Thursday, and one over the weekend. Since Tuesdays and Thursdays are typically my non-Zoom-class days, I do the bulk of my work those days and try to do the shorter assignments on Mondays and Wednesdays. If there’s a paper, perhaps find sources and write the introduction one day, then the middle sections the next day, then the conclusion another day.”
Pay attention to deadlines
“Pay attention to deadlines,” sophomore Moriah Story warns. When classes take place on campus, professors often verbally remind students about upcoming assignments that are due. However, online learning makes this a bit trickier. Assignment due dates can get lost in the shuffle, and the original class syllabi are often no longer accurate. The best way to keep track of upcoming deadlines is to create either a physical planner or an online planner with everything that is due each week or each day. By creating a document with upcoming assignments for each class, you will be able to refer to it quickly and easily, while holding yourself accountable for what is due. “And if you miss a deadline,” Story adds, “don’t panic! Email your professor about the mistake and make it up as soon as possible.”
Johnson adds in regard to deadlines, “Don’t push off assignments either. You want to make sure you give yourself ample time to get your work done! Spread it out; it makes things less stressful as you don’t have to worry about rushing at the last minute.”
After you work on homework for a while, reward yourself, junior Hannah Middaugh recommends. “It is important to have something to look forward to,” she has found. “For instance, I work on homework for 1-2 hours depending on the assignment, and then reward myself with an episode of ‘Criminal Minds’ or a walk with my dogs, depending on the weather. Rewarding yourself will give you a reason to push through the all the work you have to do. Also, have a set time that you’re done for the day. A full day of homework and classes won’t be fun, but having that cut-off time will also keep you motivated to get as much done as you can.”
Staley adds, “You do not want to overwork yourself; otherwise you will become stressed and not as easily be able to complete work. Give yourself breaks, make a calendar, and give priority to different assignments when necessary such as essays or projects.”
Markle also suggests, “For me, rewarding myself gives me the motivation to accomplish the things I need to get finished. Another motivator for me is having someone keep me responsible, asking if my assignments are completed for the day.”
Rewards can also include maintaining relationships, either platonic, familial, or romantic, junior Olivia Shirk proposes. “I dedicate a few evenings a week to either family or my fiancé. Especially if you have a lot going on, it’s good to recharge with people who care about you!”