This section is designed to help you anticipate some of the challenges of learning remotely. You will be doing familiar things such as reading, studying, and writing papers, but in a very new environment. You will also be asked to do unfamiliar things, such as mastering new technology or engaging course work asynchronously. Here are some of the ways that you may have to adjust your habits and approaches to learning, and some simple tips for becoming a successful remote learner.
Preparing to Start Classes
Getting familiar with technology
An analogy for residential learning would be to not only know where your classes are, but knowing how to get there as well as a few shortcuts, just in case you’re running late.
For remote learning this means playing around with Canvas, Zoom or Panopto. Learn to use features that you’ve never used and may never be asked to use. Host Zoom sessions with your friends. Put them into small groups, show them a taped Panopto lecture, then upload it to Canvas.
- Become familiar with your devices and how to turn off alert sounds and prevent other audio interruptions to class.
- Trying out Zoom features in advance of class will help you engage and troubleshoot when classes begin.
- Consider how your use of technology might challenge your connectivity. Having a number of websites open or using gallery view in Zoom, which shows video of many people in class, may cause problems if your internet connection is weak.
This level of familiarity will free your mind to take better notes, participate in discussion, and help your fellow students.
New learning environments
To the extent that you can, identify spaces that are:
- Able to support your technology
- Consistent and reliable: Knowing where you will be throughout the day, and what specific tasks you will accomplish there, provides structure and familiarity that can add normalcy during this time of newness and transition.
- Quiet and well lighted: Coffee shops are fine for some things, but they are full of ambient noise that interferes with online conversation. And lighting on your face allows other students and the instructor to see you and get to know you better.
Don’t forget your friends. Commit yourselves to virtual social gatherings.
Creating Your Schedule
- If you are living in a time zone other than Central Time (Central Daylight Time) for spring quarter, you may be required to attend Zoom sessions at times when you would prefer to be asleep. Working on team projects will pose challenges as well. Review this aspect of your schedule carefully. Talk with your instructor about ways of engaging the class during normal waking hours. It is important that you avoid committing yourself to a schedule that deprives you of sleep or makes life unmanageable.
- Think carefully about the type of intellectual focus and work habits required of each course and adjust accordingly. And don’t be hesitant to ask instructors for advice on how to succeed in this unfamiliar learning environment.
Learning Through Online Discussion and Group Work
Storing notes and important notices
Your usual practices of organizing information and documents that support class discussion may not work when learning remotely. Try to anticipate how you will keep track of things. For example, will you have access to things posted on Zoom chats once that session is over? Once classes have started, map out for yourself the sources of key information–documents, notes, handouts–and devise a strategy to keep those things in order.
Processing new information
During a normal, on-campus quarter, you have consistent, informal contact with classmates and instructors, which provide opportunities to discuss and critique what you are learning in class. You can replicate the benefits of being on campus while learning remotely by talking yourself through what was discussed and the key points you gleaned from the discussion. Jot those thoughts down and file them.
- Ask a classmate or two to join you in that process, via Zoom or other platforms.
- See if you can engage family members in these conversations.
Everyone is learning how to have online discussions, so it helps if everyone, not just the instructor, is striving to maximize participation. Keep your contributions on par with other students. And if you find you can’t contribute to discussion effectively, let the instructor know.
Learning Through Recorded Lectures
You may find it difficult, at first, to learn from a taped lecture. Stick with it (it gets easier) and try these strategies:
- Listen to the lecture with the video off while taking notes
- Read the slides with the audio off.
- View the full lecture one time through, taking notes. Then, put the audio on in the background while you do other things that don’t require a lot of attention. Try visualizing the graphs, images, or slides as you listen.
Dealing with Disruptions
It is likely there will be technological or logistical disruptions. Consider the following:
- At the start of class, ask your instructor to explain the procedure if the technology fails on his/her end. What should students do until contact is reestablished?
- Ask what you should do if technology fails at your end? What is the best way to reestablish communication? What should you do until that occurs?
Working with Your Advisor
Staying Connected with Your Advisor
The key here is not to rely on established modes and schedules of communication. Start fresh. Account for all of the reasons you need to be connected: meeting deadlines, getting feedback, exchanging documents and data, etc. Identify the technologies you will use and a schedule for connecting. Suggestion: plan to communicate more, not less. If you “touch base” daily, try to replicate that. If you and your advisor are used to having casual conversation about things other than work, build that into your schedule, too.
Before you engage your advisor in this conversation, you will want to take a good, realistic look at your situation for the weeks and months ahead. You will want to ask: what kind of scholarly work does your living and social situation accommodate? what equipment/resources/workspace/ people do you have access to? Are there limitations on your ability to communicate? Ask yourself what level of connection will be best for you in the weeks ahead.
As you talk to your advisor, inquire about how they will be working remotely, and what level and mode of communication would work best for them. Like you, your advisors are probably scrambling to figure things out. The plan you devise will be better if you are forthright and clear as possible about your individual plans, including limitations, for working remotely.
Once you come up with a workable plan, it is important to develop a Plan B: what to do if one or both of you loses access to one or all of the technologies you have planned for. How will you continue to communicate, exchange documents and data, access resources, etc. It’s good idea to identify something to work on – a text to edit, a data set to review, that you have at hand. If all else fails, you can make progress on that.
Keeping Track of Scholarly Stuff
Incorporate new protocols for keeping track of documents, data, etc. Think about whether you will need new ways of storing and sharing your work, and extracting data, resources, and commentary from your advisor. Do these items need special labels or metadata for future access? How will you keep priority information secure?
Recreating Academic Community
Build a network with other faculty members, graduate students and academic partners. Think about all of your formal and informal collaborators, including the people you rely on, and who rely on you, every day. Contact them now to develop a network for working remotely.
The Most Important Thing
Be mindful of your own situation. As we focus our attention on the logistics of working remotely, it is easy to forget the larger context. We are working remotely in response to a serious threat to the health and well-being and us and those we love. Something related to COVID-19 will reach each of us, in different ways and at different times. Attend to your own safety and sense of security, and that of your family and friends. Be honest with your advisor about your capacity to work, and generous toward the capacity of your advisor and others around you to work as well.
Developing New Skills
As you practice new strategies for learning, stay conscious of what you’re doing and how well it’s working for you. The technologies you’ll be using and the structure of your courses and assignments will be very different from the on campus experience. The timing and tempo of your work may shift, which may enhance your capacity for critical analysis or creative problem solving.
There may also be structures of support or patterns of interaction that you are used to, but are not available in remote learning, and you may experience frustration. If you stay attentive, you are more likely to identify the support you need, and you may be able to recreate it by some other means.