As colleges have closed and we have transitioned to distance learning, many students are faced with the task of completing class assignments largely on their own. For students who didn’t sign up for online classes, independent learning can be stressful and difficult. English Composition classes can be especially challenging, as much of the vocabulary is new to Freshmen, and the writing assignments – policy proposals, research papers, analysis essays – are much longer and more complicated than perhaps they were in high school. Take a deep breath and read on for some tips on how to complete your class assignments and make it to the finish line.
Keep a Schedule
“If you do not conquer self, you will be conquered by self.” – Napoleon Hill
Get out your academic calendar and write down “appointments” for every online class meeting. But don’t stop there. The academic rule of thumb is that for every credit class hour, you should spend 2-3 hours of outside study. If your professor has reduced the class meeting times because you’re now in class on ZOOM, that doesn’t mean the (normally) 2-3 hours weekly class is now only 30 minutes. Keep to the original schedule; if your English Comp class was to meet twice a week for a weekly total of 3 hours, schedule out an additional 6-9 hours of study/writing time. This is the MINIMUM amount of time students should devote to college-level coursework; for many of us, the current distractions could necessitate additional hours of study.
Stick to a Routine
“We are what we repeatedly do; excellence then is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle
It’s essential during these times of crisis to have a regular routine. Trying to navigate life right now without some kind of regular routine is like trying to run a marathon without regular training. Not gonna happen.
Establish a daily routine. Wake up at the same time, get dressed, go to bed at the same time, eat at least 3 meals a day, exercise, and maintain relationships. Once your basic needs are met, you’ll have more space – mental, emotional, and physical – to meet life’s other demands, including college coursework.
Check your syllabus to see when your professor holds virtual office hours. Pencil those hours into your academic calendar so you’ll have access to your instructor when you need it if questions or problems arise. If your instructor has offered the option of recorded classes, try your best to virtually attend the live class meeting, as you’ll have the benefit of immediate chat or breakout sessions. These live sessions can also be a great way to keep up our social interactions with our classmates.
Break School Work into Smaller Chunks
“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” –Confucius
A long research paper takes time, but try to avoid sitting in front of the computer screen for hours on end. Schedule in break time to get outside and take in some fresh air and give your brain a break. Instead of scouring library databases for hours collecting sources, schedule a research session for one hour and take a break. Try creating an outline of your research assignment, and break each point in the outline into smaller chunks of actual work time.
Alternate between doing coursework and listening to music. Research has shown that listening to music can help improve cognitive performance, but listening to your favorite music before you have an especially stressful or challenging assignment or exam will also improve your emotional state (The Benefits of Studying with Music).
We’re All in this Together
“If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path.” – Buddha
If you find yourself struggling with an assignment, don’t delay in reaching out to your classmates or instructor. If you have a question, I guarantee a classmate has the same question, but might be too embarrassed or intimidated to ask. Consider starting your own virtual study group. It’s not only a great way to keep up with classes, but also a great way to keep up social connections and prevent isolation fatigue.
If you find yourself falling behind, keep putting in the effort. In our current academic environment, professors really do appreciate the effort, and the last thing anyone wants is their students to drop or disappear. If your institution offers a virtual writing center, make an appointment with a writing consultant for assistance.
Also, consider that instructors might be struggling too. This might be the first time they’ve taught online, and many professors are just trying to figure things out as they go. They might have let some of the lessons drop that could have made your assignment easier to understand. By speaking up and posing questions, you’re not only helping your classmates, but you’re helping your instructor navigate this new academic territory we’re all finding ourselves in.
Reach out, make connections, and keep showing up. The antidote for worry is action. Take action, even if the action is imperfect. Finish the assignment, even if it’s not your best work. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment, and you’ll be one step close to that final goal.