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by Julie Wolf, Guest Writer

“While remote or online learning is different than face-to-face, it truly isn’t less than.”

A professor friend told me this. I believe it’s true, but some students are anxious. Who better to address their concerns than experienced faculty members? A dozen professors in varying fields (art history, architecture, writing, literature, African-American studies, nutrition, philosophy, computer science, and electrical engineering) from varying institutions (midsize Ivy League and liberal arts schools, large private universities in the Northeast, even larger state universities in the South and Midwest) weighed in: What can students do to achieve a successful fall semester? Their advice will be helpful not just for college students, but for students in high school as well.

What worked in spring

“Although those in different time zones had to adjust, students who set up a schedule that mimicked an on-campus week found online easier: getting up and dressed as though you were going to class, having a space devoted to class, coming to class prepared, participating in discussion, and submitting work on time.”

“Aside from set times for classes, it worked well to schedule chunks of time to work on a particular subject, interspersed with ‘scheduled’ time for self-care. This allowed students to bring order and control to an extraordinarily unusual situation.”

“My most successful [student] teams established regular meeting times, during which all team members were expected to be online and working on the project. They combined synchronous distributed meetings with asynchronous, persistent chat rooms where they could pose questions, provide links, encourage each other, and socialize outside of their scheduled meeting times. The impact of peer encouragement on these forums is not to be underestimated. When students took the time to give each other a virtual pat on the back, it clearly and directly contributed to higher morale, better learning, and increased productivity.”

What didn’t work

“For remote learners, the distinction between home (usually vacation time) and classroom (studies) is quickly lost without consistent class attendance. Also, students sometimes shut off video and muted themselves: If that’s a connectivity issue, fine; but scrolling through social media behind your nameplate means you’re effectively absent. The instructor may mark the student present, but the effects of what are actually absences grow quickly and disconnect the student even more than remote learning has the potential to do.”

“A few of my student teams decided to take this as an opportunity to relax their schedules. Rather than meet at specific times, they divvied out responsibilities and asked people to work whenever they felt like it. This led to the unfortunate but seemingly inevitable consequences of miscommunication and confusion, which then resulted in mistrust and poor performance. Every team that relaxed their schedule regretted it.”

“Faculty who lectured using PowerPoint slides tended to not maintain students’ attention. Having everyone muted and the video off was problematic, as was collecting questions using the Comments feature in Zoom rather than orally. Methods based on a lack of interaction were the most problematic.”

“Students said some teachers tried to do too much, used too many modalities. Just because you can Zoom doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can create complex PowerPoints or record lectures doesn’t mean you should.”

Tips for students

“Keep an eye out for communications from professors, and check your class websites (typically on platforms like Blackboard or Canvas): What does your professor expect to use? Make sure you have the latest versions downloaded, and practice using them with a friend or family member so you become conversant with them.”

“Realize that with Zoom, professors can see students’ faces far more easily than in a regular seminar room, so attentiveness is important.”

“Courses that focus heavily on writing (which most do) can be problematic for students with weaker writing skills. Students could be more successful by getting help from writing centers, tutors, etc., especially if English is not their first language.”

“If you’re doing remote learning exclusively, delay taking courses better suited for an in-person setting. Conversely, a course that might be challenged by mask wearing—such as language courses—might actually be better remote choices.”

“These classes are ‘real.’ Don’t be casual in attitude or approach. Being online during a pandemic doesn’t make a failing grade any less failing—and it doesn’t keep it from showing up on a transcript.”

“What students miss most is interaction with other students. They might ask for 15 minutes before or after class to be on Zoom alone to get to know each other.”

Final words of wisdom

“Online is new, but it can be just as successful, and for introverted students, even more so. Be positive. See this new way of learning as an opportunity and not an obstacle. Manage your time and learning space. Be an active learner. If you’re tech-savvy and you see a classmate or teacher struggling, offer help. Think about your online class as a learning community, and take an active role in making yours a really positive one.”

“Make the most of those things that are entirely in your control, such as class discussions or journal-writing assignments. Log on early and often.”

“Have a glass-half-full mentality. This time will define everyone’s lifetimes differently. You get to choose how to spin it for yourself. Make it an educational moment full of discovery, opportunity, and empathy.”

About the Author:

Julie Wolf, the sole proprietor of Qwerty Editorial, is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Framingham, Massachusetts, with her husband and their three children: a ninth-grader, a high school junior, and a sophomore in college. She can be reached through LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/juliewolf-editorial/.

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