In this post, the Learning Development team, who run the Academic Success Centre and Study+ on Canvas, offer advice on adjusting to remote learning and continuing to engage with your course in the era of social distancing.
The last five weeks have seen unprecedented changes to life as we know it, with inevitable disruption to your studies and daily routine. Teaching, learning and assessment are now continuing remotely, and as we all shift to this new way of working, it is necessary to reflect on and adapt our study practices to fit with the new environment.
1. Get organised, within reason
It’s easy to think that, with restrictions on socialising and being outdoors, we’ll now all have lots of extra time on our hands and you’ll find it easy to smash through all your work. Maybe you will, but don’t fall into the trap of expecting too much of yourself and then getting demoralised and demotivated if you can’t meet unreasonable expectations. Be gentle with yourself, and acknowledge the impact anxiety and disruption can have on your work rate. Now more than, ever it is important to get organised, prioritise tasks, and ensure a healthy approach to study.
2. Plan your days
It’s difficult when working from home but try to emulate your daily routine from before the lockdown. Treat studying as you would a job, getting up and going to sleep at your usual time on weekdays. It may be tempting to study in your pajamas, but getting washed and dressed every day will help you feel more engaged and connected to reality. In terms of what to study and when, it is important to break tasks up into manageable chunks, and set yourself achievable tasks for each (short) study session. See the Study+ page on Organisation and Time Management for help with this.
3. Find a dedicated study space
As far as possible, try to set up a dedicated study space in your home, and use that space only when you’re studying. This will help get you into professional mode, and create a separation between your home and study life. If this isn’t possible for you, can you follow a schedule where a space (e.g. the kitchen table) is used only for study between certain hours of the day, after which you’ll put your materials away and return the space to its usual purpose?
If you’re asked to attend an online seminar, try to do so from a private space without those you live with passing through. Try too to work from a table and chair as much as possible rather than a sofa or your bed – following the usual habits of professional life will help you engage better in these unusual circumstances, and help to prevent stiffness and backache.
4. Don’t try to study through your mobile!
As more of your learning moves online, it will be important to ensure you have access to the best computer set up you can manage. A good internet connection and up-to-date computer/laptop/ tablet are essential – speak to St George’s Learning Technology Services (LTS@sgul.ac.uk) if you have any concerns about this. Although it may be tempting to access Canvas etc. through your phone, such a small device is not conducive to good learning or healthy posture, so please try to avoid this. If possible, it’s also worth investing in a USB headphones and microphone set, as these make the online experience more immersive, removing distractions and thereby improving concentration.
5. Take regular breaks
Most people can’t concentrate on one task uninterruptedly for more than about half an hour. Don’t expect yourself to be able to work non-stop from 9 to 5, it’s important to take regular breaks. The Pomodoro Technique utilises principles from educational psychology to recommend concentrated study period of 25 minutes at a time, followed by a 5 minute break, with a longer break every two hours. See if this works for you – we’ve found it really helpful, particularly when struggling to get started. It’s easier to tell yourself you’re going to read a textbook for a 25-minute-stint than to sit down thinking you’ll get through the whole thing before you stand up again.
6. Aim for variety
You may find that the majority of your learning will necessarily be coming through your computer. However, staring into a screen all day every day isn’t good for anyone, and is unlikely to promote effective retention of information. Aim every day for some variety in what you’re physically doing. If you’re watching lectures or reading online, can you break this up with times of physically making notes on paper, or talking through your learning with somebody else? Many people find it easiest to synthesise their learning in a visual form, creating a mindmap or diagram of large concepts. See the ‘After’ section of our Learning From Lectures resource for examples of visual notes you could produce on scrap paper. If you haven’t already, it’s also worth reading through the Effective Study and Revision page, for ideas on how to be ‘active’ in your independent study.
7. Talk to whoever’s around you
Learning is an inherently social activity. We learn most effectively when we’re discussing ideas with other people, asking and answering questions, and confirming understanding through debate. If there’s somebody at home who can help you with your study, ask if you can talk things through with them (they don’t need to have any prior understanding of what you’re studying) for five minutes at a time. If you can explain something clearly to somebody with no prior knowledge, that’s a sign you’ve fully understood it yourself.
8. Stay connected to your classmates
Try to stay engaged with peers on your course. It can be really helpful to impose some ‘accountability’ on yourself through agreeing targets or deadlines with peers, and then checking in regularly. For example, you could text a friend to tell them what you’re planning to study on a particular morning, and then video chat with them at lunchtime to compare notes on how the morning went (as well as having some important social downtime) – all the better if they’re working on the same topic as you. You might like to think about setting up a study group using one of the many options for online videoconferencing or chat software. Everyone should be able to access Microsoft Teams through their St George’s email address, or you could use your existing social media channels. Within any new group, it’s useful to discuss the purpose for meeting – what are your priorities and aims, and does everyone agree on these? Set small targets for each session, rather than a vague ambition to ‘do’ a whole topic.
9. Be active when you study
In a face-to-face lecture, there is a time pressure for the lecturer to convey as much content as possible in only 50 minutes. When studying remotely, this time pressure doesn’t need to apply. Just as when reading an academic paper, it’s useful to pause and reflect on what you’ve read at regular intervals. When following a lecture on Panopto, aim to stop it every 10 minutes or so to ask yourself what you’ve understood from it. This is more productive than aiming to take notes as you listen, and encourages more genuine engagement. Try watching short blocks of the video, and then intersperse this with something more active: writing a summary paragraph or series of bullet points on what you’ve just learnt. Better still, write questions about what you’re still curious on – taking ownership and determining your priorities, rather than passively receiving information. If you’re using this approach, you may find there’s no need to take lecture notes at the same time as listening. Although it may take longer to keep pausing the video, you can be more confident that you’re retaining the information if you’re actively engaged with it.
10. And finally… we’re still here for you!
While the university campus may be shut down, remember that most of your learning resources, and particularly St George’s Library, are available via remote access. You can use Hunter to access thousands of learning resources from home, or contact the library for one-to-one support from a Liaison Librarian. The Academic Success Centre, which provides one-to-one advice on study strategies, has moved to remote appointments. Click here if you’d like to book one of these.