Before Class

Preparing for Remote Learning

Creating a Learning Environment

  • Wherever possible try to create a dedicated workspace in a quiet and comfortable place.
  • Clear off a flat, well-lit surface where you can sit or stand to work.
  • Keep everything you will need nearby (notebook, post-its, headphones, pen, pencil, water, etc.).
  • Communicate to those around you about your need to focus.
  • When you are working in your workspace, sign out of social media, turn off notifications, and avoid distractions.
  • Although your dedicated workspace is best for focused work, such as studying and test taking, consider varying your location for some of your other work. If you are in an area where libraries and cafes are closed, you could try writing or working in other quiet spots in your home or you could do your reading outside.
  • Social distancing protocols might result in difficulty finding a quiet, unoccupied space. You may be surrounded by parents who are working from home and/or siblings without childcare that you may be asked to supply. Do your best and communicate with your instructors about any challenges you are facing as soon as possible.
  • Try writing down one goal for each of your courses this semester. It can be functional (“I want to get the highest grade possible”) or developmental (“I really want to understand international politics the best I can”). Put your goals up in your workspace and use them to keep you motivated.

Getting Set for Zoom Classes, Zoom Meetings, and Zoom Appointments

  • Familiarize yourself with Zoom before your first lecture or meeting.
  • Test your device’s webcam, microphone, and audio settings. Make sure everything is working properly and ensure that your microphone isn’t producing feedback.
  • Check your internet connection and Wi-Fi speeds in advance. If you’re having a slow connection, close out unnecessary applications and browser tabs, turn off other devices that are leveraging bandwidth, and try switching to a wired Ethernet connection.
  • If possible, try to be in a room that has fabric or other soft items on the wall or nearby to reduce echoing (e.g., decorations on the wall, pillows). You could also partition off your workspace by hanging a blanket. If you are getting a lot of echoing, earphones with a microphone will also help.

Getting the Most out of Remote Learning

Reducing Distractions

  • Turn off computer and phone notifications during class and study hours.
  • Work in short, efficient bursts with a clear goal. The Pomodoro technique is one method you can use. In its simplest form, the Pomodoro technique involves:
  1. Deciding on a task you want to get done
  2. Setting a timer for 25 minutes of work on that task followed by a 5-minute break and repeating that cycle three or four times before taking a longer break (e.g., 30 to 60 minutes).
  • Create an incentive system where you reward yourself for finishing tasks with small treats or fun breaks.
  • Try interleaving: switching between different topics you’re studying. Research shows that interleaving is better for memory than focusing on one topic for hours; the variation can also help you stay attentive for longer.
  • Keep your workspace tidy so you aren’t tempted to procrastinate with cleaning.

Staying Engaged by Being Engaged

  • When attending your Zoom class, take notes just as you would when you are there in person. Do not depend on yourself to re-listen to the recorded lecture later to take notes or to jog your memory.
  • If you are watching a recorded lecture, watch it at normal speed. If you cannot resist the temptation, do not go beyond 25% compression. Research shows that students’ ability to learn information drops significantly somewhere between 25% and 50% compression.
  • When attending a Zoom class or watching a recorded lecture, focus on that one activity. Do not be tempted to multitask (e.g., do not try to attend class and be on another app on your phone, or watch a lecture and check your email). We all think we are good at multitasking, but we are not. Instead of multitasking, we are simply switching our attention between tasks, and that results in wasting time, making mistakes, and remembering less.

Maintaining and Creating Social Support

  • The requirements of social distancing mean that many of us won’t be allowed to meet up with others in person for the foreseeable future. Your courses are a great way to combat the resulting feeling of isolation! Try to see lectures and study groups as opportunities to have enriching social connections.
  • It’s important to find ways to engage in social interactions with your classmates when your classes go online. You might have to put effort in making that happen since some classes may not immediately provide such interaction. If you are in a discussion-based class and aren’t getting the opportunity to talk, try asking your professor to experiment with smaller discussions in breakout rooms. Research shows that maintaining social interactions is associated with the effectiveness and enjoyment of online classes.
  • Schedule online study groups to complement your independent work.
  • Schedule time with friends to socialize as a reward for work completed or intentional breaks in the day.