10 Ways to Prepare for Remote Learning This Fall

10 Ways to Prepare for Remote Learning This Fall

14 August, 2020

Remote learning, as most of you have already determined, presents unique challenges.

It can be hard to pay attention.  Teachers may find the technology difficult to navigate.  Classes will get canceled last minute.  Office hours may be eliminated.

I think we can all agree that the limits of the coronavirus /COVID-19 pandemic will place on campus life will make college, well, less fun.

I sympathize.

But if you’re going to college this Fall, you’ll need to deal with these unfortunate events, regardless of how you feel about them.

Whether remote or in-person, an incoming freshman’s experiences will differ from that of a returning student.  While many things below will be relevant to all college students, my focus here is on new students, who are facing the deepest adjustment from their former lives.

With that in mind, below are ten ways to prepare for remote learning this school year.

  1. Play around with Zoom, WebEx, Canvas and even Kaltura.

For incoming freshmen at mid-sized or large schools, especially, your first semester is likely to feature most or all of your classes online.  Given that, step one is familiarizing yourself with the technology you’ll be encountering.

Zoom is by far the most prevalent site colleges have been using to date for remote learning.  It’s relatively easy to navigate, and many of you may already be familiar with it.  For those who aren’t, here are some keys:

  • Mute: Generally you’ll keep your audio on mute, as otherwise the feedback can be problematic.  Similarly, for large lectures presumably you won’t be showing video of you, though you’ll see the professor. That said, read the rest of the class– if everyone has their Zoom video camera on, you should too.
  • When you do have a question, the “chat” feature is ideal.  You’ll see the chat function at the bottom of the Zoom screen.  If you don’t want the entire class to see your question, simply click on the arrow marked “everyone” and scroll down to the professor’s name.  This will enable you to send a private message, like a DM on any other social media platform. Remember that sending a message during live lecture is similar to raising your hand in a traditional classroom; a teacher will likely notice your query and respond accordingly.
  • If for some reason you need to “share” your Zoom screen (say, showing a PowerPoint presentation), make sure you have all other windows and your browser bookmarks closed, as people will be able to see literally everything that is visible on your computer. So if you don’t want your professor to see your quick access to sports betting, close it before joining the Zoom class.
  • Ask if the class session is being recorded, as Zoom has this feature.  This would be a great way to review the lecture, without fear you’ve missed something during note taking.  If not, lectures, school work and webinars are often uploaded to your student interface; ask about this.
  • Some teachers do not expect live participation and just seek confirmation of student completion of the schoolwork and remote learning lecture. If this is the case, use it to your advantage. Recorded lectures can allow you to start/stop on confusing material.
  • Make sure your background is something you would want a teacher and the rest of the class to see. Ideally your background is simple, consistent and professional.

2.   Time Management: Establish a Routine.

A routine is critical in and college; that’s especially true for remote learning.  You’ll soon discover that you have way more free time than you did in high school.  The problem is that it’s incredibly easy to waste most of that time.

A routine can help you keep up with schoolwork and overcome or at least minimize the damage done by incessant scrolling or similar time sucks.

I’d advocate using an online calendar (Ical, Google calendar, etc.), a physical planner, or some combination of the two to keep track of remote learning.  Online calendars are particularly effective for discrete tasks like tests, school work deadlines and classes.  A day planner can be utilized for everything else –workouts, meals, parties, etc.  The method you choose is not as important as usage, so go with whatever you’ll regularly utilize.

Some mentees of mine practice a ‘checkpoint’ method. For example, “before Tuesday at 8 PM, I must have my Monday and Tuesday lectures completed prior to seeing friends.”

Treat online school just like you would if school were face to face.  For example, try to establish a space in your home or dorm that’s only for schoolwork. Find a space with a desk, supportive chair, internet access and ample light that you dedicate to remote learning. Working in the same chair where you play video games is more likely to lead to distraction.

3.   Interact with Professors and TAs.

Most students already use email to ask their professors logistical questions.  The problem: it’s impersonal.  As the real benefit of meeting with professors is getting to know them, and vice versa, try to supplement email with Zoom or even FaceTime.  Your first interactions can be super brief.  Once you’ve established a rapport, these meetings will naturally be extended. The chat feature of new Zoom software shortens the virtual distance between students and professors and improves learning experiences.

4.   Join Non-Physical Clubs

Joining clubs is one of the best ways to meet other students, to discover new passions, and even to prepare for the “real” world.

Feeling connected to your college is going to be difficult while attending online during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Clubs provide a bridge to connect you to your peers in real-time.

While intramurals, dance and similar physical activities may not exist for some time during the coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic, tons of other clubs will.  Join.  Whether it’s the school paper, the philosophy club, or a music review club you form yourself, just join.  In fact, join numerous clubs, try them out, and then quit the ones that aren’t appealing.  (Don’t quit if you’re not immediately an expert; only quit if you truly don’t like the club and/or the people in the club.)

Reach out to your fellow students in clubs, classes and groups for face to face coffee or lunch chats. These virtual meet-ups will keep you connected to the student body when school buildings open everyone is back on campus.

5.   Use Social Media Productively

Social media has many adverse effects, from sucking up your time to leaving you feeling worse about yourself in comparison to the perfect lives your friends and others always seem to be having.  But social media obviously isn’t going away.  And it can be hugely beneficial in one critical way for remote students: as a way of interacting with your new classmates.  Form and join Facebook groups for your classes.  Set up remote learning group chats.  Anything to connect you to your peers, all of whom are dealing with the same disconnectedness and loneliness you are while attending school remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, will be useful.

6.   Utilize School Resources

Most people are paying a fortune to attend a four-year school.   You might as well make the most of that, and familiarizing yourself with the services your school offers is one way of doing so.  Learn what’s offered.  Who to contact. Their hours of service.  Add the virtual office hours for each course to your Google calendar.   Schools are becoming increasingly aware that they need to provide students with an experience, and that remote learning is only one part of that experience.  Find out what they offer, and take full advantage of whatever it is.

7.   Goals: Bucket Lists

Starting college with no plan and no goals is like cooking a meal without checking if you have the ingredients, pots and pans, or even a stove.  Sure, if you like pb&j, you’ll still be fine.  But otherwise, you might go hungry.

Your bucket lists should be broken down into three categories:

  • Basic Goals (things you need to do this semester).
  • Challenge Goals (things you’d like to do this semester but you’re not sure if you can).
  • Dream Goals (things you’d love to do this semester, regardless of how unrealistic they may seem).

You’ll adjust your goals based on what happens.  But you need to have them first.

8.   Discipline

Who’s fooling whom with remote learning: it’s freaking hard to pay attention to an online lecture. It is just not that same as a traditional classroom setting. Hopefully, professors have gained some presentation skills and will be more adept at engaging students.  Regardless, you have to do your part.  One critical tip: turn off your phone during lectures.  And while you’re at it, avoid opening any other windows while class is having.  These two simple steps can help you stay focused during remote instruction and online learning, which you’ll need to maximize the value of online classes.  No one is saying this will be easy, but it’s not impossible either.

9.   You’re Not Alone

You’ve undoubtedly been looking forward to college for years.  Now it’s here, and it’s …. online remote learning?  Ugh.  It’s OK to be sad.  It’s OK to be pissed.  It’s OK to be worried.  Remember, most or all of your fellow students feel the same way. More importantly, if you set realistic expectations, you’ll be able to make the most of this crappy hand you’ve been dealt.

10.   There’s Life Outside of School

Carpe Diem.

I owe my marriage to that phrase.

(Thankfully, my wife “seized the day” and asked me out, as I didn't have the nerve.)

And now, according to Nancy Darling, a psychology professor at Oberlin, it's possible for college students to live this phrase.

“Students of means can distribute food from food banks. They can mobilize voters. They can organize social media campaigns for advocacy groups and child care for essential workers and reading lists for libraries. 'If you’re a volunteer for six months,' [Professor Darling] points out, ‘in many places you can just take over the damn organization.’”

Carpe Diem.

Randy Shain

Author of 173 Pages Every College Student Must Read

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