Learning During COVID-19
Things may feel out-of-control right now. You may be facing a lot of unknowns and disruptions. Try to be patient with yourself, your classmates, and your instructors during this time. Take care of your wellbeing first. Making a plan and adjusting your studying may help you feel a sense of control.
We've compiled some tips, tricks, and resources for you to help you do your best this semester.
Looking for something specific?
Upgrading your learning strategies
Working with a group or team
Staying connected to other people
Managing Stress and Anxiety
Resources for problems bigger than class
Surviving Class in a mask
Wearing a mask can be distracting, it can limit communication, and it can even make you feel anxious. Here’s a few tips for combating some common issues so that you can pay more attention to your learning, and less to your mask.
Irritation and Sensory Overload
The physical sensation of the mask can be irritating and distracting.
- Take time when putting on your mask so that you can make sure it fits properly and isn’t rubbing against your ears (you can even buy or make an ear saver!)
- Make sure to plan regular breaks where you can take your mask off
- Keep your body well-rested and hydrated, and eat a balanced diet. This will help your brain be able to handle the sensory data coming at it
Does keeping your mask on make you feel anxious and overwhelmed? Does the hot and stifling feeling trigger fear? Do you worry about getting enough air? Pause whatever you’re doing and take some deep breaths. Remind yourself of the truth about your mask:
These masks have been proven to give me enough air
I have the power to take my mask off when this class or situation ends
My mask is part of my commitment to health and citizenship
I can step outside and take off my mask if I need to
I am in control
Glasses fogging up
Do your glasses fog up when you’re wearing a mask? This is because that warm moist air is coming right out of the top of your mask and hitting the cool lenses of your glasses—the perfect recipe for condensation. Try these tricks:
Fit: Try adjusting the mask so that it fits across the bridge of your nose better. If the mask is too big, try twisting the straps before placing them over your ears, to create a tighter fit. Consider buying or making a mask that pinches around the bridge of your nose.
Coat: If your glasses don’t have any special coating, wash them in soapy water and let them air dry. The soap residue creates a fog barrier.
Stick: Put your mask on and pull it a little high on your nose. Place your glasses on top of the mask. The glasses can pinch the mask tight and hold it closer to your face so that your warm breath doesn’t escape. If all else fails, you can even try medical tape or bandages to stick the mask around the bridge of your nose.
It can be difficult to communicate with others when you’re wearing a mask. Communication is both verbal and nonverbal, and when your tone of voice, facial expressions, and even words are getting lost, communication can become difficult. Try these tips to make sure your ideas are getting across:
Project your voice and speak clearly and loudly
Use gestures and more exaggerated body language
Be patient if people struggle to understand you
Find simpler phrasing to get your point across
Don’t give up on connecting with the people around
Reminding yourself why the mask is important can help you handle this discomfort and frustration. Remember, your mask protects the people around you. By wearing your mask, you’re doing your part to keep our community safe.
Thriving in an Online Class
If you aren’t used to taking online classes, it can feel difficult to connect and keep up. Try these tips for staying on top of the work
1. Stay in touch
- Check your email and D2L frequently for updates or changes
- If you have questions, are confused, or struggle in the class, talk to your instructor
- Contact classmates frequently or set up a study group
- Set up appointments with a tutor or academic coach
2. Know what’s required and know the deadlines
Remember that in an online class you won’t have the same reminders of assignments, projects, and deadlines as you would in a face- to- face class
Keep a planner or calendar with all assignments or due dates
Break assignments down into smaller tasks and set your own deadlines for them
Take notes, even if the information is all available online
Reach out to a tutor or Academic Coach for help staying organized
3. Manage your time (and your distractions!)
Pick certain times to work on the class and put away all distractions during that time
Find a quiet place to do your work and limit distractions while you’re working
Once you know what you have to do, write out your due dates in a planner or calendar
Schedule time to study for tests and quizzes so that you aren’t cramming
- Schedule time to complete writing assignments; consider the stages of the writing process, including brainstorming, outlining, drafting, and revising.
Try out the Pomodoro technique for studying and breaking, or utilize the 1 hour study session
Making the Most of Video Lectures
Stick to your instructor’s schedule as much as you can. Staying on a schedule will help you have a feeling of normalcy and prevent you from falling way behind.
- Find out how to ask questions. Is there a chat feature? Is there a discussion forum?
- Close distracting tabs and apps. Decades of psychological studies demonstrate that humans are not good at multitasking. When we try to do two things at once, we perform slowly and sloppily
- Take notes. Research teaches us that note taking improves our understanding and memory more than re-watching or re-reading the information
- Use a weekly planner to anticipate your own deadlines. Check out the Setting a Schedule section for tips and tricks.
Setting a Schedule
Creating a schedule for yourself is the easiest way to stay on top of your hectic semester and create a sense of normal for yourself.
Pick a planner, calendar, or phone app to use. Many students use their phone calendar for appointments and class times, and a paper planner for tracking their tasks and due dates.
Start with dates and times: Add all of the known dates for meetings and appointments, like when you have class, sports practice, club meetings, and other appointments. If you are using an electronic calendar for these kind of appointments, make sure to enter them in as soon as you learn about them. Including the location in an online calendar appointment can be helpful, as many phones and computers will tell you how long it will take to walk or drive to your destination, plus you don’t have to worry about forgetting where to go.
Add major assignment due dates and tests: Look through your class syllabi or online course information on D2L for due dates and test dates and add these to your planner. Some students will add a star to a due date or write the words boldly so that they can tell the difference between a due date and an assigned task. Many students select a colored pen or marker for each class, so that they can write Test 1 or Rhetorical Analysis Due in the color assigned to that class, which lets them easily tell what class it is for without taking up room writing the name of the class.
Make a plan for how to get ready for due dates and tests: Break assignments and papers down into smaller tasks and set your own deadlines for them. For writing assignments, consider the stages of the writing process and set your own deadlines for them: such as brainstorming, outlining, drafting, revising, and editing. For tests, set times to review the material daily or weekly, as well as scheduling in more intensive study sessions 2 weeks prior to the test date. Writing down mini deadlines and tasks to be completed each day is a great way to stay on top of your work and build effective memory and comprehension of the material. Write these tasks and mini deadlines in your planner. If you choose to color code, use the color for the corresponding class to write the task name.
Leave room for fun: When filling out your daily or weekly schedule, be sure to leave time for breaks, eating, social activity, and extracurriculars. Your academics can actually suffer if you don’t give your mind and body some rest throughout your week.
Managing Your Email In-Box
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by a full inbox and it’s easy to miss important messages. Email is a commonly used form of communication in a university, and now that we’re protecting our heath by creating more physical distance, the number of email communications you send and receive is rising quickly. Try these tips for managing the madness of your email to keep on top of what’s important without adding to your stress.
- Check your email every day so that you don’t miss anything important
Set aside a time each day that you will check your email. This will also give you plenty of other time to ignore it so that you can focus on your school work. A good rule of thumb is to check it once in the morning, and once in the evening.
Set up folders and filters for organizing your messages based on a class, job, or extracurricular activity, or even specific person. This will let you separate out your messages. For example, you might want to start checking email for your classes right before that class each day. Having all of the messages for that class in once place can make it easier to find them. If you have a job that sends you a lot of email, it can be helpful to send those messages to a folder so that you aren't distracted by them when you’re off the clock and trying to study.
Mark messages as unread or flag them if you plan to respond and haven’t yet. This will keep you from forgetting to deal with them. Even if you open and read the message, you can still mark it as unread when you’re finished.
Add tasks and responses to your planner so that you don’t forget to deal with them. This is especially important if you need time to gather a document or complete a task. This can also help you prioritize tasks related to your email. Not every message needs your immediate attention, and you should prioritize what you need to accomplish.
Respond within 24 hours to anything that needs your attention. This is a polite rule that many professionals follow. You can typically expect a 24 hour response from others, as well. If your task will take more than 24 hours to complete, it is polite to respond and let the person know when they can expect to hear from you.
Archive messages you no longer need in order to clear out the clutter of your inbox. If you archive instead of deleting, you can always find that message again if you really need it.
Unsubscribe from clutter like promotional emails and mailing lists that you don’t read or use. If you really want to keep them, set up filters to automatically route these kinds of messages out of your inbox and into a folder, so you can look at them only when you want to.
Don’t stress about Inbox Zero. Some people believe it’s important to read, respond to, and archive all messages so that you end the day with an empty inbox—this is called Inbox Zero. Sometimes this isn’t realistic. Obsessing over your inbox can take away precious time from other things that might take priority over the message waiting for you.
Upgrading your Learning Strategies
Many of your existing habits—such as working in a crowded coffee shop to stay alert or partnering with a study buddy—might not work the way they used to during this pandemic. Work to proactively change your strategies so that you can do your best.
Create a study zone in your dorm room or apartment. Having a space where you can find all of your materials is important for keeping organized. Also, keep in mind that research shows moving to new locations occasionally can keep your brain focused and make study sessions more effective. If you are taking classes on the main campus, you can book a study room in the Harvey Knowledge Center.
Practice a Growth Mindset to help you handle setbacks and view your learning more positively. Look at learning as your capacity to grow and not as a measure of what you already know. Remind yourself that you can do something yet. Accept feedback and grades as information about how to improve, not as evaluation of your abilities.
Practice smart study strategies like short study sessions, regular review of course material, interleaving, spaced practice, retrieval practice, and more.
Face your anxiety, rather than ignoring it. We all experience anxiety over our learning, our health, and our social lives. Attending college during a pandemic is going to produce some anxiety from time to time and pushing it down or ignore it will only give it more power. Practice some anxiety management techniques, join an anxiety strategies workshop, or make an appointment for counseling.
Keep going to office hours your instructors set. They will likely offer an alternative way to get in touch with them, such as over Zoom, email, discussion boards, or texting. Even if their office hours look different this semester, don’t be afraid to reach out. Your instructors love knowing you are interested in connecting with them to improve your learning. If you’re unsure how to prepare for meeting with them or what to ask them, check out our resources on Contacting your Professor.
Working with a Group or Team
Remote collaboration will look a little different, but it is certainly possible.
- Try not to procrastinate. That group project may be out-of-sight, out-of-mind if you aren’t seeing each other regularly. Resist the urge to put it off. Make small progress and stay in touch.
- Meet regularly, especially if you usually touch base during class or lab. Consider a quick text on your group chat about progress every couple of days. Ideally, have real conversations over video or phone any week you’re working together.
- Set a purpose for meetings and use a shared note. Meetings might feel different when using Zoom, even if your team was really good at working informally in the past. Try to set the purpose of your meeting in advance. Use OneDrive to take notes in a shared Word document or One Note so you can all contribute and follow along.
- Keep videos open during your Zoom chats. Zoom can let you share screens and see your team member’s videos at the same time. As long as you can see whatever you need to collaborate, aim to keep the videos of your team visible on your computer screen. It’ll help you see the expressions of your teammates and stay connected to each other.
- Check on each other and ask for backup: If someone has been absent from your group meetings or chat, ask them directly if they’re still able to participate in the project. If you aren’t getting responses within a day or two, let your instructor know. Reporting to your instructor isn’t being petty, it’s your team’s responsibility.
- Create daily or weekly deadlines by setting goals for the group and breaking projects into smaller pieces. Determine what work each member will complete each day or week, and communicate those deadlines to each other. Be sure to write your tasks and deadlines in your own planner as well as on your group document to stay on top of them. For more tips on using your planner and setting a schedule for yourself see the above section on Setting a Schedule. The Harvey Knowledge Center (Main campus) and Academic Support Services (RUC) also offer assistance with group projects.
- Practice Group Emotional Intelligence (GEI) to keep your group functioning smoothly.
- Maintain interpersonal understanding (practice awareness of each other's feelings, concerns, strengths and weaknesses)
- Express a caring orientation (treat one another with positive regard and respect)
- Set ground rules for expectations and behavior and communicate them as a group
- Confront members who break norms (Kindly but directly address those who fail to uphold those ground rules.)
Staying Connected to Other People
Even if we limit how much face-to-face time we spend with others on campus, connecting with family and friends is more important now than ever before. And staying in touch with instructors, classmates, and group members is still important for continued classwork. Here are a few ideas:
- Schedule video calls with friends and family. Talking with loved ones is often really helpful when you’re stressed or nervous about something. Taking a break to have a laugh is also important.
- Use Zoom or Microsoft Teams to connect with classmates to talk through a tough problem
- Attend virtual office hours or study groups so that you can stay up on your coursework.
- Make an appointment with the Harvey Knowledge Center or the CHBS Writing Center on the main campus, or with Academic Support Services on the RUC campus for academic support from others.
Managing Stress and Anxiety
We all experience stress and anxiety over our learning, our health, and our social lives. Attending college during a pandemic is going to be stressful, and pushing your stress and anxiety down, ignoring it, or minimizing it as no big deal will only give it more power to sneak up on you. Practice some anxiety management techniques, join an anxiety strategies workshop, or make an appointment for counseling.
Resources for Problems that are Bigger than Class
Is attending class and getting good grades at the bottom of your list right now? Are you wondering how you’ll feed yourself, where you’ll sleep, how to manage your home life, or how to pay for textbooks? Are you struggling with internet connection?
Some content borrowed from the University of Michigan under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. [PDF]
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