A Memo to Students on Punching through the Pandemic
Note to readers: Be welcome to make this note your own. Use it as a template. Delete or revise what doesn’t fit, add more sections or examples, and change the voice so that it sounds like you and aligns with what you would like to see from your students.
Confused by remote learning? Uncertain? Anxious? Worried? Stressed? Unclear what next week will bring? For many of us faculty, the answer to all these is yes. I am guessing that many of you are experiencing this as well. We are all in this together. Your faculty and schools have your back. Here are some ways to better navigate the weeks ahead as colleges and universities across the nation move instruction online.
What does this mean for you? Learning online can be challenging in general and especially if it is new to you, but there are positives and many strategies and resources to help you learn well online. Instructors will vary in how they approach “remote teaching,” our term for delivering classes over the web. For some of you, classes will not be limited to set times of the day or week. Many classes will change format so that you can access the lectures of materials more on your schedule. You may be stressed because not all your remote classes will be the same and you will have to navigate the differences. We faculty know that and like clarity and certainty too, so whether we meet at a fixed (synchronous) or flexible (asynchronous) time, your instructors will work to make sure meetings times, assignments, and expectations are clear. You will know exactly what happens when, just like in your face-to-courses. If you are unsure, contact your instructor immediately.
Classes may also change so that the format of tests and assignments varies. If your class would have had a lot of multiple-choice exams, it may have more discussion boards and short essay assignments that give you better (and less stressful) ways interact with the material and show what you know. Going remote may also allow you even more interaction with your classmates. That’s because a course on a learning management system (LMS), such as Canvas or Blackboard, has many technological bells and whistles to give you more ways to learn that an in-person lecture does.
There may be delays. While many of you have not taken online classes, many faculty have not taught online either. This makes remote learning even tougher. Our commitment to your education is motivating us to hustle and get our courses online even if we have never taught online before. Even with very hard work, going online still takes time. What faculty are being asked to do on short notice is unique. Teaching remotely is a safety feature to reduce exposure; it is the easiest way to continue to educate without shutting down and delaying your graduation. Teaching remotely is not the same as teaching an online class. Remote teaching is an instant response to an emergent health crisis and is being set up quickly. In contrast, online teaching involves the same planning, energy, and investment that goes into teaching in person, and both use evidence-based teaching. While we are using the many best practices for online teaching to guide your remote learning, be prepared for a lot of trial and error.
If you do not hear back from your instructor about an upcoming class or they have not responded to your email(s), be patient. Give your professors some leeway. They are trying hard to get up to speed and just need some time. They want to do the best job for you that they can, and this is not easy right now. They’ll be cutting you some slack in adjusting to this situation as well.
How can you best prepare? GET TECHY. If you have never taken a class online before, take the time to get familiar with how it works. All schools are creating resources for you. Here are two great ones from Oregon State: Learning Online and Keep Learning. These will give you basic technology savviness—and some great tips for learning online as well. Tech savvy, after all, isn’t everything.
When courses are all online, a lot more of the responsibility is in YOUR HANDS. You have to make sure you find the time to log in for each of your courses. You now have readings, assignments, and discussions for multiple courses with no in-person time when the instructor will remind you of what is due when. PLAN WELL. Create a schedule for the next few weeks, blocking out when you will work on which class. Yes, this is a good thing to do in general, but now it becomes a critical need to stay sane and on top of it all.
One very important reminder: TAKE NOTES. While 98 percent of students take notes while in face-to-face classes, few take notes in online classes. If all your classes are online, you may think you have a lot of extra time or that you can take a break from note-taking. Bad idea. Even if your remote teaching instructor does not do synchronous lectures, take notes on the recorded lectures and your reading assignments. Notes keep you focused and help you learn.
ATTEND to your mental and physical health. By now you know to keep your distance, wash your hands often, and not touch your face, but social distancing is a poor choice of term. Keep physical distance but play UP your social ties. Talk to, text, and message your friends and family. Keep in touch. Reconnect. Social support is one of the biggest psychological predictors of health. If you need information or emotional support, prioritize getting it. Make special time for friends and ensure you get physical activity. This is also the time to sleep more. Eating well, sleeping more, and talking to friends are all factors that will make your body stronger at fending off infection and speed up your recovery if you do get sick.
REACH OUT if you need help. Key services such as Student Success, Advising, and Counseling (or the equivalent on your campus) are working to make sure they can deliver their services remotely as well. They can be your first stop for support as you navigate this new experience. These offices will have many things available, just in different formats.
I absolutely adore teaching in person, and I know many of you love going to a physical class and interacting with your classmates in real life. The energy that arises from the learning process is palpable. Teaching online can have a lot of that too. Many students do as well in well-designed online classes as they do in person—sometimes better. That is good to know. I have taught online and loved it. Students learned. It was still a hard transition the first time. And I had a lot of time to make it. Regular online teaching is not the same as remote teaching, but we both should be open to doing things in new ways. You can still learn well, but you’ll have to change your expectations.
The faculty and staff at your universities know how stressful this can be for you. Do not hesitate to reach out to us. Together we will punch through this pandemic.
Regan A. R. Gurung, PhD, is a professor of psychological science, the director of the general psychology program, and the interim executive director for the Center for Teaching and Learning at Oregon State University. Follow him on Twitter @ReganARGurung.