How to Survive Learning Remotely at CoronaCollegeOnline

Days away from the hoped-for fall semester, college students and their parents remain trapped in a conundrum that’s been brewing all summer. While some bravely move into dorm rooms, others are ditching loaded Bed Bath and Beyond carts after abrupt announcements that their school has rolled back plans for in-person education.

Coronavirus cases among college students already on campus are spiking, according to a recent New York Times survey (6,600 cases among 270 colleges as of late July). Also, cases among young people are rising across the country. At least 50% of US college students will begin their fall semester in a fully online format, a number sure to rise in these next weeks. We’ve run out of time to continue dwelling in this uncertainty – for most colleges the need to go virtual is clear, and here. Let’s practice “radical acceptance” and focus on making online learning work for college students.

It’s not all bad news, really. “College online” means most students (nearly 10 million, according to College Crisis Initiative) will not face the risky and stressful daily routine of pandemic “campus life,” described in my recent hypothetical scenario “A Day in the Life at Corona College.”

Instead, confused yet very adaptable students will “attend” college virtually from an array of locations: most from home, many living off-campus in their college town, and some from dorm rooms on campus. No matter where they sit as they log in, at least half of Fall 2020’s students learning remotely will live daily routines radically different from the ones they knew only a year earlier. I imagine this new experience below in “A Day in the Life at CoronaCollegeOnline.”

Ambitious, tech-savvy and highly resilient, Generation Z is well-equipped to succeed in another semester of online learning. However, we need to be concerned about the mental health of this generation’s college students. According to a survey by Active Minds, COVID-19 has negatively impacted the mental health of 80% of college students and 91% report experiencing stress and anxiety. While students I’ve recently interviewed are understandably worried and disappointed to be away from campus, they say the routine of remote learning feels safer and far less stressful than worrying about pandemic guidelines in a college setting.

For five years I’ve consulted for clients who want to know everything about “Generation Z,” a fascinating group of youth in the heart of this college cohort that I’ve come to know well. I’m also a parent of college students and a volunteer youth counselor. Even so, I probably still have as many questions about Fall 2020 as anyone! To deal with that uncertainty, I’ve assembled ideas on how to succeed (okay, at least survive) in a semester of learning remotely through the latest version of a pandemic “quarantine.” These come from mental health professionals, educators and straight from Gen Z college students themselves.

“A Day in the Life at CoronaCollegeOnline”

joshatlaptop“Josh” is a junior majoring in Business. We imagined ourselves speaking to him in late October about his routine of living at home and learning remotely.

8:00 am: I roll out of bed in my childhood room, filled with high school soccer trophies and a 2020 family calendar which tells me that today is Tuesday. I glance at the schedule I set out last Sunday for this week, exhale and tell myself “I will follow today’s agenda.” Going barefoot down the hall to shower, I’m grateful I don’t need flip flops or to wait in line like at my dorm. I get dressed for the day in my hoodie and shorts and make breakfast with the groceries I helped Mom buy for the week. (Cafeteria eggs never tasted this good…)

8:55 am: I head to my first class in my new “office” in the attic, a space I claimed and created to study and work outside of my bedroom. My old walk to that class took 20 minutes across a frigid campus in winter, so this brief march up the stairs is really nice. I have a desk, a chair, my textbooks and a laptop the college gave me when they went remote.

9:00 am: I log in to Economics 207, a large lecture class taught by Professor Davis – a renowned PhD and the Department Chair, who’s also at home. I decided early in the semester to make the most of this, so I participate live every day where I can. It really helps me engage with an interactive lecture that enlivens even dull theories of economics. I write questions in the chat room, and after class email Professor Davis questions and text my classmates. I’m grateful for the writing skills I learned in high school. (I hadn’t imagined I’d have to write so much more than speaking in college!)

11:00 am: A quick lap around the yard before joining the zoom meeting for online office hours with my Statistics professor, limited to five students every day. Clicking a zoom link is a lot easier than standing in line outside her office, waiting to get in with many other students seeking help. She answers my questions and I grab contact information from others to form an online study group. We agree to “meet” next Tuesday.

12:00 noon: Lunch with the family. Everyone emerges from their home “office” to meet in the kitchen, sharing funny stories of our day. Plenty of days I feel like hiding in my attic and grabbing a protein bar, but I always make sure to come downstairs. Two months in, my anxiety’s building up so I discuss what to do about it with my family.

1:00 pm: I log in to Creative Writing, being taught “hybrid” to ten masked students sitting far apart in the classroom. The professor’s also there, teaching in person while wearing a face shield and a mask. Forty of us are participating remotely and fortunately there’s a TA who monitors our written questions. I feel like I’m watching a class on TV instead of a student paying tuition, so I “raise my hand” on zoom to be recognized.

3:00 pm: After a second lap around the yard while checking my texts and emails, I go back to the attic and study for two hours. My online study group of ten fellow business majors meets at four every afternoon, providing me extra help as well as some needed socializing. Meeting each day helps hold me accountable. We meet on zoom so we can see each other’s faces. One of the group members, Mark, was having a rough day balancing studying and babysitting his younger brother; we suggested he review his schedule with his family.

5:00 pm: Time to work out. I jog to my high school soccer field and scrimmage with other students from my hometown also home for the semester. This is a highlight of my day. Together we created home training workouts and look forward to playing soccer again in fall 2021.

6:00 pm: Family dinner. It’s my night to cook, so I make spaghetti and meatballs, one of my favorite cafeteria meals at college. My sister cleans up. Everyone in my family seems somewhat grumpy, so the five of us force each other to share one good thing that happened today. We also talk about depression and anxiety, who feels what, who needs more help than others today. My mom seems relieved to hear I scheduled a zoom meeting with my college’s health counselor.

7:00 pm: I join a zoom meeting with a community group I joined, “RiseUp.” These neighbors share my political views, and we’re planning a Black Lives Matter march for this weekend. I’m grateful for the chance to meet people beyond my high school and college cliques. I’m inspired to become involved in activism and the connection gives me energy.

8:00 pm: Back to studying for two hours. It’s hard to focus and keep my phone off, but that lets me cram in two hours without making it four.

10:00 pm: Online call with friends from my college’s Community Outreach Club. We meet once a week and share stories about our families, our activism, how we miss college, but how we can’t wait to see each other in a few months. It’s hard but we’ve committed not to drink for the semester because we agree we’re way more productive and proactive with a clear mind. We want the club to have a strong group GPA when we go back.

11:30 pm: I scroll through my ‘For You’ Page on TikTok on my phone and turn off the lights. Funny, but if I was still living with my night owl roommate Tom from last fall, I’d be up talking to him until one in the morning and feel a lot worse when it was time for class. How can I make this work better for me?

    Pandemic isolation and anxiety due to uncertainty of the future are a huge concern, especially among Generation Z. Become familiar with signs of quarantine fatigue. Daily meditation is one way to calm the mind and experts recommend the app, CALM. Also most colleges continue to provide mental health counseling through student services. Here’s some expert advice on promoting student’s mental health during pandemic.
    Knowing what to expect each day gives us structure and a daily purpose. Create a schedule for each day of the week, even if you don’t have classes, and do it on Sunday night. Schedule blocks of hours to study and complete assignments. Share your schedule with house mates and create boundaries so you can stick to your schedule.
    Getting dressed every day helps your mental health. Research says you’ll be more productive and have higher self-esteem when you wear real clothes vs. pajamas. While it’s tempting to roll out of bed onto your laptop, you’ll feel and look more professional, letting your college community you are taking online learning more seriously.
    If your home environment allows, create a separate designated workspace for “school”, other than your bedroom. Sitting up straight at a desk with limited distractions will empower you and your class attendance. Work out an office/computer schedule with those living with you. I recognize that success is largely driven by your resources and study environment at home. Colleges are offering resources to those who need it at this time.
    It’s critical to feel socially connected to your college community. Use your resources and participate in workshops. Create and join virtual study groups and use college tutors. Participate in classes live, do not record and listen later. You’ll need to be persistent and proactive. Get professors’ and classmates’ attention by “raising your hand”, participating in class verbally and writing in chats. This will help you feel like you are part of something greater than the walls of your home office.
    Learning remotely and quarantine fatigue requires more effort to concentrate, we get easily distracted. While your phone may feel like a lifeline to your club members or teammates, “dual screening” while in class or studying will only reduce retention of class information. Experts suggest “timeboxing” assignments by creating blocks of time reserved solely for that one task at hand.
    Online learning requires more writing because you’re not there in person to “raise your hand”. Instead, submit questions and comments via chat and email. Get professors’ attention through more written communication during class and office hours. Communicating frequently helps solidify relationships with professors.
    Studies prove that those who thrive during the pandemic get outdoors as much as possible. Get outdoors every day – better yet, workout outdoors every day. Train or workout for the sport you do at college. Identify students in your community who are also home and workout together. Daily exercise will help clear your head.
    Join and participate in the clubs and extracurriculars you would on campus, and look for new ones to join. Most colleges are offering online versions of student activities. Like your Gen X parents, schedule (important to schedule) frequent FaceTime calls with friends.
    Being home or in the community of your college provides an opportunity to make new and powerful connections within your hometown or college town community. Consider volunteering in your town’s response to coronavirus. As the President of Wesleyan College pointed out, on campus you are in a more diverse environment; online learning encourages disparities. Get involved in grass roots activism. For example, surveys show over 90% of Gen Z Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Finally, keep reminding our students that online learning due to the pandemic is not forever. Learning online for just three more months will give college students the chance to stay healthier, learn in an environment likely with less anxiety and hopefully have the opportunity to return to college in person for the spring semester of 2021. Colleges have invested millions of dollars into upgrading technology to deliver a higher quality of education in this crisis – let’s take advantage. As the President of Claremont McKenna observed in a letter announcing the shift to online learning, “Living apart inspires us to grow closer together.”



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