Making the most of the new normal: Advice for students learning from home
Ahead of an academic year like no other, EDTL Student Intern Ruairi O’Gallchoir gives advice to students on how to make the most of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
When I left college on that fateful Thursday in March and headed for home, little did I know that I had just walked out of college for the last time as an undergraduate. What followed were some of the most interesting and challenging times of my entire time in university as remote learning became a reality for myself and thousands of other students.
I had gone from having a timetable, resources such as a library, and daily interactions with my lecturers to being at home with only a laptop serving as my bridge to the world of learning. All of this culminated with the sitting of my final year exams from the comfort of my bedroom – a situation I couldn’t have envisaged in my wildest dreams before the Covid crisis! This presented its own set of challenges, and here are some tips I picked up that can help you to make the most of your remote learning experience.
It’s tempting to set up your study space somewhere central such as the kitchen table, but spend any extended amount of time in this environment trying to work and you will probably find your focus dwindling rapidly. Having somewhere well-lit and where you can guarantee you won’t be constantly disturbed is crucial to making remote learning work. You wouldn’t tolerate being interrupted every twenty minutes in the college library, and the same should apply at home.
There are certain things the body simply isn’t designed for, and being slouched over a laptop for hours on end is one of them. You will no doubt be spending a great deal of time in front of your computer screen for the academic year, so you should make it as comfortable as possible. Try and keep your laptop screen at eye level by putting textbooks underneath it to avoid neck pain. You can also avoid eye strain by practicing the 20-20-20 rule, where every 20 minutes you look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
The flexibility of studying from home is a major advantage, but the lack of routine this leads to can be a slippery slope. Many lecturers host their lectures live at a scheduled time and then upload it afterwards for those who missed it. It’s tempting to just wait for the recordings, but be aware that there is nothing more daunting than having hours of lecture backlogs to trawl through at the end of the semester. Try and find a reasonable compromise between sticking to a productive routine whilst also enjoying the freedom remote learning allows.
Plan, plan, plan
It is always tempting to just sit down at your desk and work on whatever suits your mood, but this can oftentimes result in deadlines looming faster than expected and modules you don’t enjoy being put on the backburner. Making a rough plan of how I wanted my week to look in advance helped me stay on top of my work, and creating a more specific daily to-do list as well before each day can keep you focused during your study hours. If you find that your productivity is suffering at home, try the Pomodoro technique. Set a timer on your phone for twenty minutes and work without interruption for this period. Once the time is up, take a five-minute break doing anything but what you were just working on. Repeat this as necessary and you will find your attention becoming that bit sharper during your work periods.
Embrace the change
Studying from home isn’t necessarily ideal, but it is the reality of the current situation. For this reason, you should try and make the most of it and the advantages it allows. Not having to commute and embracing the aforementioned flexible schedule can make your everyday life much easier, but you should still make an effort to maximise your experience. If your lecturer opens up the online lecture early to allow for casual conversation between classmates make an effort to attend these regularly, and avoid the temptation to never interact during these lectures behind the comfort of the mute button.
Make things normal
Coffee breaks with friends, face-to-face time with lecturers and casual conversation with classmates between lectures are all part of what makes everyday life in college enjoyable. A class group on Whatsapp or Facebook can be useful for staying in touch with classmates, even ones you do not know too well. Your lecturers may also offer virtual office hours where you can go to them with any questions or concerns. This can reduce the feeling of isolation when learning from home and will also ensure you stay on top of any developments in your modules.
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