We have developed the following tips to help you make the most of working in a remote learning space.
We also encourage you to visit Columbia Online's Maximizing Student Learning resources on being an online learner.
Review any updates to syllabus and calendars
What are the requirements for class and have they changed?
Have assignments changed?
Have deadlines changed?
Have submission procedures changed?
Are any quizzes or exams being offered virtually?
What is the best way to keep in contact with your instructors?
When are exams or seminar papers due?
If you are far away from campus, consider setting a clock to Eastern Standard Time (EST) and placing it in your workspace.
Set a schedule
Setting a schedule can help you remember to complete necessary tasks and maintain a sense of normalcy and routine. Unstructured time is challenging for many, but you can also take this opportunity to think about what works best for you and even try new approaches.
Try to establish a “work-day” routine. This helps separate study time from leisure time (and work if you have a job) so that the day doesn’t slip away. Maintain a morning structure that works for you (shower, getting dressed, breakfast, etc). Make each day a little different so it doesn’t feel monotonous.
Don’t forget to account for transition moments - reserve a few minutes before a Zoom session to collect what you need, use the bathroom, or make your tea.
Determine which classes are synchronous (meeting virtually at the same time each week) and asynchronous (giving you a structure to complete tasks on your own time).
Use a weekly calendar to record when you have video lectures, office hours, study groups, and other meetings and to plan when you read/study for your classes.
Don’t forget to make time for self-care and social activities. This could be a weekly Zoom lunch date with friends, a fitness class on Instagram Live, or listening to a podcast on a solo walk around the block. Or why not all three?
In addition to weekly schedules, you might find it helpful to create a plan for the rest of the semester with all its changes and to get in the habit of setting daily to-do lists the night before.
Color coding can be a great way to help visualize the kinds of tasks you have each day.
Arrange your environment
It can be hard to live and work in the same space all the time, especially when you may be sharing that space with others who are also working from home.
Talk to your roommates or family members about their needs in terms of shared technology, common areas needed for online activities, and quiet hours.
Set up a space devoted to work. This can help you stay focused on school work, and, likewise, help you enjoy other activities when you are taking a break in a different space.
Don’t work in bed -- it might be tempting, but this habit can make us less productive and make it harder to sleep at night.
Think about how you like to study under normal circumstances and try to recreate that environment. Do you like absolute quiet? Use earplugs. The bustle of a café? Put on white noise. Studying in groups? Make a plan to check in every so often for a quick break with a friend who is also studying.
Get the most out of online lectures
Test your connection beforehand.
Try to stick to your professor’s schedule as much as you can--this helps maintain a routine. If you do need to watch recorded lectures, watch them at normal speed.
Take a few minutes before each session to go over what you need for the day’s class and to get your snacks or drink ready.
Plan to take notes as you normally would.
Find out how your professor wants you to participate--for example, by using the “raise hand” function in Zoom, or by using the chat function.
Close distracting tabs and act. Put your phone face down or away from where you are sitting. Humans are not as good at multitasking as they think!
You may be faced with integrity challenges along the way, be sure to study with integrity.
Resist the urge to multitask because it makes you less, not more, productive. Here are the downsides of multitasking:
Assignments take longer. Each time you come back to an assignment (say, after that Instagram break), you have to remember where you are and what you were going to do next.
You are more likely to make mistakes. Distractions and switching between tasks tires out your brain.
You remember less. Your brain can’t effectively encode information into long term memory.
Instead, monotask! Devote your attention to one major activity at a time and plan breaks between tasks. Play with the dog, get a snack, dance to a song, stare out the window.
Give the Pomodoro Method a try. Work in 25 or 50-minute blocks with 5 or 10-minute breaks in between work sessions.
Stay in touch with professors and TAs so you can communicate challenges of the class that may not have been addressed yet.
Ask your professor how their Zoom office hours will work. Do they prefer individual meetings? Can multiple be present to ask questions? Do they use the chat feature or waiting room function?
Maintain physical and mental health
Be patient with yourself and others
Try to be patient with yourself, your family or roommates, your classmates and your instructors. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused changes for all of us in our day-to-day lives and obligations. Take care of yourself, and take care of each other.
Connect virtually with friends and family
Move your body
Practice social distancing and follow guidelines for where you are
Additional Columbia resources
You might find that focusing on classes or even planning your schedule are more difficult than usual. There may even be more concrete obstacles than usual. You are not alone in this way, and your instructors may be experiencing this as well. Remember that there are many people available to help you, including:
Your professor or TA
These folks can help you with the following:
Understanding class material
Strategizing plans for remote learning
Talking through study habits
Coping with anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns
Providing guidance on physical health concerns, including COVID symptoms
Many thanks to Cornell University, University of Michigan, Princeton University, Northwestern University and Duke University, who generously shared materials used in compiling this guide.
If you've got a tip that may be a helpful and positive addition to this list, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.