Learning in the Time of Coronavirus

Heading into my second semester of Zoom University, I do have a few tips for anyone also struggling with remote learning.

6 min readJan 7, 2021
(source: GIPHY)

By Catherine Hsu

I first used Zoom in September of 2019 — I had missed a club orientation, and they asked me to attend their online make-up session. I spent a considerable amount of time downloading the necessary requirements and figuring things out, but after that, the orientation went smoothly for about three hours. I considered it an interesting experience, and it was more or less forgotten. I would never have thought that a year later, logging onto Zoom would be as natural as sliding into a seat in the classroom.

My experience is far from unique. As the Covid-19 pandemic began spreading in early 2020, schools across the globe were forced to take measures to prevent infection. One of the most common models was to switch to online learning. 94% of all students in the world have had their education affected by the pandemic; and for millions, the reality is that no one knows when they will be able to safely return to school.

Photo by Dan Dimmock on Unsplash

The concept of online learning isn’t new, and has actually been gaining popularity for the past few years. This is due in large part to the rise of large online learning platforms such as Khan Academy, Coursera, and Linkedin Learning around the early 2010s. These platforms provide high-quality content that is available for free or at an affordable price. While initially utilized in school settings, the simplicity and variety of courses soon attracted learners of all ages. The increased use of such programs in the business world comes from a clear and easily reviewed sign of completion. Coursera offers certificates that are available for purchase upon completion of a course, which cost significantly less than if one took a class at a university. With the Internet Age well upon us, companies are putting more worth into online learning, which in turn attracts more users.

However, many experts have expressed that online learning is most beneficial as a supplement for those that want to learn more, rather than serving as a primary means of education. This is because of the many inequalities that quickly arise when online learning becomes the only option. For instance, 17 percent of American students do not have a computer at home, and 18 percent do not have access to a stable internet, both of which are necessities for online learning. Even though some school districts are distributing laptops, tablets or sending “Wi-Fi buses” to strengthen gaps in internet coverage, the lack of physical supplies proves difficulties in providing sustainable learning environments. Low-income families often do not have separate rooms for each student to learn. More often than not, online learning requires parental guidance for setting up software and turning in assignments, especially for younger students. Yet low-income parents are more likely to have jobs that cannot be done from home or not have English as their first language which limits their ability to assist their children. These issues have risen to the surface after the sudden shift to online learning left teachers, parents, and students unprepared.

Despite the problems, online learning has remained the reality for many students, including myself. Being 12 hours away from campus has led to additional difficulties, but heading into my second semester of Zoom University, I do have a few tips for anyone also struggling with remote learning.

1. Create a separate study space (if possible)

Studies have shown that separating a work or study space is beneficial for improving concentration. Training your brain to recognize one place as the designated learning area helps you get into work mode faster, and will also help to lessen distractions. In order to do this, pick a space that is solely devoted to learning — for me, that’s my desk. I try not to do anything other than schoolwork or other academic activities there. If I want to watch Netflix or read a novel, I do that in another place.

However, since you’re going to be spending a lot of time there, make sure that it’s a place you like. Decorate it with pictures or posters, add a few houseplants, or some natural light — all of those things have been shown to improve your mood and increase efficiency. Even though the place is devoted to studying, it should not be a place that immediately gives you bad vibes.

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

2. Routine & Scheduling; Breaks & Mental Health

Online learning can really mess up your routine, and this is especially true when the learning isn’t done at a usual time. When I first began online learning last semester, I fell into a vicious cycle of staying up late for class, oversleeping, and not getting any work done. This semester, I’ve changed my routine to be able to accommodate my classes, work, and social life.

Not everyone’s routine is going to look the same as mine, but the key is always scheduling. I’ve found that planning out a day in advance helps me to stick to it. For instance, if I have class until 1:00 am the previous night, I’ll set an alarm for 10:00 am the next day. This way, I can get a few hours of work in before taking a short nap in the afternoon to keep myself awake for class. Don’t worry if everything doesn’t turn out the way you planned — knowing what to expect, your body will gradually adjust to the schedule you set out for yourself.

Just as importantly, remember to set aside break times and take care of your mental health. Zoom burnout or fatigue is a real thing, and includes both physical symptoms, such as eye strain and back problems, and increased anxiety, stress, and tiredness. These issues will lower your productivity and cause even more problems if not addressed. Even if you feel as though you have so much to do, it’s worth it to take some time away from the computer. Take a walk, read a book, go on a hike, or arrange a meet-up with some friends if that’s possible. In the 15 minutes between online classes, stretch, drink some water, and keep away from any digital screens. It will help you concentrate better and improve your mental health, both benefits in the long run.

Take time to stretch and dance! (source: GIPHY)

3. Ask for help

Online learning can be stressful, and even if you do everything you can to keep yourself productive, it’s not abnormal to still struggle. This is a huge change compared to what you’ve done before, and it isn’t your fault.

If you feel as though you’re having trouble keeping up in class, ask for help. Most professors are incredibly understanding and accommodating once you tell them your problems. For me, having three classes in a row was too much of a toll on my eyes and caused headaches and fatigue, so I asked my professor if there were alternative methods to keep up in class. She allowed me to watch the lectures asynchronously, and participation was kept by annotating a Google Document. This greatly relieved a lot of the stress I’d been feeling and helped me complete my work more efficiently.

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Of course, there are some professors that may not be so kind, but on the whole, they understand and sympathize with what students are going through — they, too, had to switch to a whole new mode of teaching. Even if you do meet the rare professor that flat-out refuses to help (and unfortunately, they do exist), it really can’t hurt to ask.

Online learning is a change that has suddenly overtaken the world, and may be around for years to come. Learning to adapt and address the issues that it brings, both at a personal and administrative level, will be of the utmost importance as the pandemic shows no sign of abating.

Catherine Hsu is a sophomore at NYU majoring in Liberal Studies. She is a cat-lover and wants nothing more than to curl up with a cat and a good book.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Mockingjay.




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