May 15 2020

The Remote Learning Diaries: How to Turn Your Home Into an Effective Remote Learning Environment

A Texas State University student offers tips and perspective on how she turned her house into an effective remote learning environment.

Students usually have a love-hate relationship with classes. They love the idea of going to class, but they hate the coursework that follows. For some classes, the coursework is just busywork, while other classes are so discussion-based that if you miss a day of class, you quickly fall behind. 

But what happens when your entire schedule is thrown off the tracks and your learning environment becomes a futon sofa with an attention-seeking cat, siblings who don’t know how to mind their business, and a sleep schedule that’s 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. one day and 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. the next?

What happens is a mess. 

As a student, I thrived on a rigid schedule to help me stay on top of my classwork, internship and self-care. In fact, all of those things have a certain environment that is needed for me to excel. For school, I work best before 3 p.m. on campus or at a coffee shop. But when COVID-19 stripped me of any coffee shop luxuries, I had to come up with creative ways to stay focused. Technology is my new best friend as I navigate the uncertainties.

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Make Remote Learning Work for You

If you are the type of person who struggles working from home because you need a setting that will switch your brain to “work mode,” then here are some tips to get you started. 

  • Create an atmosphere: If you are a coffee maniac like me, then try to brew some coffee at home and use your computer to play background coffee shop music. YouTube playlists have some great selections that can really help you feel like you’re sitting in a real coffee shop. 
  • Get dressed: This may seem ridiculous, but dressing up in the morning makes your body feel like it needs to be productive. Working in the pajamas that you slept in last night won’t help you shift your mindset.
  • Manage your time: If you have a smart speaker like Google Mini or Alexa, set 25-minute time increments and hide anything that displays the time; research shows that if you focus on work without looking at the time, you’ll actually work more efficiently.

Making these changes has really helped me transition to learning online. But other priorities might rise to the top of your list. Designing a successful remote learning environment at home is all about how your home makes you feel. Home is a place for self-care and personal interactions, so bringing professional or academic interactions home can feel like something is intruding into your space. Balancing the two can be a real struggle, but it can be managed.

Make Peace with Online Learning

As an English and Communications double major, I have come to realize that online classes are not as bad as I thought they would be, as long as face-to-face interaction is maintained. My English major requires a great deal of face-to-face discussion about the readings we have to complete. I’m taking two English classes this semester: Mythology and Chaucer. Both classes are absolute favorites. My Chaucer class meets online through the Zoom videoconferencing platform, which students jokingly refer to as “Zoom University.” Every Tuesday and Thursday we meet to talk about the readings and scholarship, and so far, the discussions and engagement have been meaningful enough that it makes the virtual meetings just as good as the in-person classes we were used to. 

My mythology class, however, is conducted through a completely different online platform. Our workload has increased significantly because everything that we’d talk about in class is now in a discussion forum. The lack of face-to-face interaction is causing a huge dip in the quality of the class because reading other people’s posts is not as engaging or stimulating as in-person discussion would be. 

Compared with my English classes, my communications classes have been easier online. Lecture classes tend to do just fine online. A lot of business-type classes online aren’t hard to translate virtually. While face-to-face communication is the best way to learn, online recordings of lectures with notes and a once-a-week check-in on Zoom seems to work for the most part. The one downside that remote learning doesn’t compensate well for is the ability for students to ask clarifying questions or interact with the professor about small things. Sending emails may not guarantee a prompt response, and relying on written communication increases the chances for miscommunication. 

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So, the big question remains: Are we getting the same value that we would have if classes were conducted in person, as usual? It depends. Having complete control of your education requires intense time management skills. Even with the syllabus telling us what assignments are due when, it is up to the students to follow those and budget their time wisely. This is the hardest thing for students to do, because they think they can do it later, and when later comes, students can find themselves very far behind. Many students struggle with maintaining a daily agenda. I consider myself to be a detail-oriented person, so I have three agendas to help me. But I know many of my classmates rely on professors to remind us when we have a major assignment due. Having a personal agenda that you write in with a pen and paper, alongside an online one, can really help with this. 

In short, how well or how poorly remote learning goes for many college students will depend on how well you plan, how well you manage your time and how well you set up your remote learning environment. It might seem daunting, but it can work.

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