My first semester at RIT was definitely a learning curve. The speed and intensity of the work, as I quickly realized, was far more rigorous than what I had experienced in high school. I didn’t have the same familiar friends to help me with tough concepts or work through assignments together. I didn’t know a single professor either. I wasn’t quite sure where to find help outside of the classroom. All of these things were gradually grasped within the first few months as a college student (don’t worry, you will overcome them, too!) By the second semester, I was confident in efficiently keeping up with the pace using different tools, like the tutoring center and study groups.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this system I mastered changed almost immediately after becoming comfortable with it as remote learning was announced for the remainder of the 2020 spring semester. It eventually carried through the fall semester and it was a journey to teach myself how to learn in an unfamiliar environment. Despite my initial worries, like overcoming distractions online and finding quality virtual academic support, I worked through different routines that would allow me to learn again effectively. Here are the strategies that made the biggest difference:
1. Create a List of Goals to Achieve Each Morning
With a mix of in-person and zoom classes, it can become difficult to manage work and keep track of responsibilities if you don’t have a plan in place. Making a list at the beginning of each day held me accountable. It allowed me to effectively use my time without feeling overwhelmed by the daunting news of an entire week’s worth of class and assignments.
2. Minimize Distractions
This is most applicable for cell phones; leave them in an out of reach area for zoom lectures. If you don’t, you may find yourself “watching” a lecture while simultaneously sliding through your phone or sending a “quick text” that leads to zoning out for 35 minutes of the class. You’ll promise yourself that you’ll go back and watch the uploaded recorded lecture, but you won’t. Trust me from personal experience! Keeping your phone on you during zoom lectures makes learning the material, attempting homework assignments, and achieving good grades that much harder. Save yourself — treat virtual lectures like you’re being watched by your professor in an in-person class.
3. Utilize Google Calendar
Before any virtual element of college, I used a paper agenda. Although I still occasionally use it, Google Calendar has become my most beneficial tool (sadly no, Google did not sponsor this tip). With classes ranging from all in-person, to hybrid, to all virtual, it can be tedious to keep track of which system your lecture follows for a given day and different zoom access links for virtual classes. Thankfully, Google Calendar does it all for me. Most professors also make connecting these links with your calendar effortless. It has plenty of other features too, like reminders and the ability to take notes. I constantly set reminders when assignments are due and send alerts before any events to ensure I’m not overlooking anything.
4. Separate Your Work Space From Your Living Space
If there is one key piece of advice I have for managing stress, it’s this. The convenience of staying within your dorm or bedroom walls to complete assignments is extremely tempting, I know. But, finding an area to do work away from the area you sleep is crucial. Moving from my desk to my bed within two steps after finishing my assignments, or even worse, finishing my work in bed, allows no in between time to de-stress. As insignificant as it seems, a five to ten minute walk from the library back to your dorm or apartment can go a long way. It’s made me considerably more productive while completing work and allowed for more consistent sleep.
5. Ask For Help
When I first started remote learning, I often felt that there was no place I could reach out to for help. However, finding support is quite similar to the way of finding it for in-person courses. The RIT Academic Center offers tutoring, test prep, assistance in challenging concepts, and so much more. Individual professors also offer virtual office hours throughout the week, as they would for an in-person course. Scheduling meetings with professors is an option as well if you’re unavailable for the set office hours.
6. Don't Be Hard on Yourself
I’ll admit, I had several unproductive times where I lacked motivation and didn’t even want to open my laptop. I was easily frustrated with myself at the end of the day, thinking I could have completed more work. Nonetheless, it’s a good reminder that every day isn’t going to be my best day of learning, and that’s okay.
Adjusting to a new virtual way of learning is just one of the challenges that college has presented me. I’ve become considerably grateful for RIT, friends, family and professors that helped me overcome it. Everyone goes through challenges, and having such a reliable and supportive system surrounding RIT goes a long way. It’s comforting to know that the hybrid environment was a learning curve for all students and professors. Though it’s become a big part of our lives, it won’t last forever. We’ll eventually return to the normalcy of in-person classes. Even so, these struggles come with positive life skills, like being flexible and adapting to change — skills that will be beneficial years beyond college.