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Self-Studying During a Pandemic 101

Updated: Feb 13

By Giulia Becker Miller

Image via Pixnio.

When this pandemic first started almost a year ago, there was mass uncertainty about the risks of keeping schools open, of whether counties were even risking a heightened spread if they did, and of the possible emotional/psychological risk factors that would face children and young adults as a result of all of these changes to be implemented. A majority of Generation Z and Millenialls were not homeschooled in the United States and were likely attending public or private schools where in-person classes took place. As a result, there was a culture shock the moment most, if not all, of these students were thrust into having to learn in an at-home environment.

Online learning has proven to challenge students in a number of ways they had not experienced in their entire school career. As a third year college student, my experience has not been any different. I have struggled through the journey that this pandemic has forced upon my school experience and, by no means, have I mastered online-schooling during a global pandemic (whoever has, should definitely write a book—we need one). However, as these grueling months have passed, I have adapted and worked hard to re-learn how to learn; let’s face it, the way we were learning and taking in information while in-person is not cutting it during this global catastrophe. While we may be seeing an end to this terrifying experience coming our way, there still seems to be a number of months (possibly even one more year or so) before classes begin back in-person and in a fashion that we were more accustomed to before.

With this in mind, I have decided to look at these coming months as not a postponement of returning to in-person classes, but rather an opportunity to better my self-study skills. As the year has passed, I have learned a bit about what has worked best for me when it comes to online learning and hope that this following study-guide helps you and your friends as well:

1. Back to Basics

Remember in elementary school when your supplies list for class was extremely long and you were expected to come to class with your own colored pencils, highlighters, crayons, paper, etc; then somewhere in middle school that all went away and they just expected you to know what to get for your respective classes? Most of us ended up only getting pencils, black/blue/red pens, and maybe some folders and notebook paper. A major recommendation of mine that has helped me understand the content in my readings far more is highlighting, color coding, etc. wherever you may see fit and helps you best understand. While you are at it, make sure to draw pictures in the margins of your readings that illustrate the content in a manner that makes sense to you. Yes, yes, all of this is so elementary; there is a reason they begin teaching us in this way as children. While reading specific texts can be fun, especially when you are enjoying them, there comes every once in a while one article that you simply cannot get through nor retain. Humans exist as multi-faceted and we learn in a variety of ways, mostly with our senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. If you want to retain all of the information that is relevant to the class and text, you will want to make use of all of those senses, especially sight and sound (the suspected primary learning senses, in the traditional sense). By highlighting and coloring the text, and drawing in the margins you are training your eyes to connect the content on the page with specific colors or images. This will make retrieving the highlighted information on the page that much easier during an important quiz or exam. So dig into that old box where your old, forgotten, crayons and colored pencils are lying and put them back to good use. Not only will this make you retain the information better, your readings will be made more interesting and even more fun to read!

But wait! What if I can’t print out the readings for class to highlight?” Ah, yes, of course. I had this dilemma, as well. Luckily, there are a number of apps that allow you to highlight and draw on your readings straight from the screen. I usually annotate straight from the readings I download on OneDrive—sometimes, there are glitches, though. As a result, I always have a backup app called Sketchbook that works wonders and has yet to give me any problems. If possible, I recommend you get yourself a stylus that allows you to mimic the motions that you would be making with an actual pen and paper; however, accessibility is a major problem for many students at the moment, so don’t just give up if you cannot do so. Using a mouse and keypad for this is beneficial, as well!

Lastly, but importantly, train yourself to learn how to highlight. Find the points in the text that are most relevant to the subject matter of the class you are reading the piece in and color code the page in a manner that allows you link up specific concepts with specific colors, e.g. red - main idea, blue - supporting points, green - vocabulary words, pink - parts that you personally enjoyed. Make sure you are not highlighting the entire page; not everything will be important or relevant to your class so try to read and annotate with a specific scope in mind. This beginners guide for highlighting helps explain highlighting techniques if you want to learn more. If you feel as though you study better with background noise, check out my “study beats I like” playlist on Spotify to accompany your awesome highlighting adventures.

2. When taking attendance proudly exclaim, “Here!”

Being online, over zoom, in the google classroom, we all have felt a lowered sense of responsibility to be present in the full sense of the word. You can turn your mic and camera off, you can participate at a minimum requirement through typing in the chat every once in a while and you can even do your chores or play Among Us with your friends while only half-listening to a lecture. This is the last thing you want to hear, I know, but that needs to stop and I cannot stress that enough. In order for you to retain the information from class, you must be in class. The better you can force yourself to mimic the environment of a classroom, the better off you will be in the long run. If you have the privilege of having a desk to work at, sit there and remove all possible distractions; e.g. turn off your notifications, put your phone away, etc. Make sure all that is present at your desk is your notebook (get one you are excited to write in; one that may be your favorite color or has inspirational quotes at the end of every page), your pens, your laptop (which should only have your class and assigned readings up) and yourself. On top of all this, I cannot stress enough how important it is, if you are able to, turn your camera on while in class. Of course, if there are bandwidth problems or you need the camera off for unrelated reasons, you are off the hook for this one; however, I recommend you keep in touch with your teachers about this out of courtesy and respect to them. This piece of advice on making sure the camera is on, while I am sure does help the students in the long run, is more for the teacher and I do not mean for their well being. Here is what I mean: when we see a person’s face, hear their voice and interact with them in a more human manner (as opposed to over a blank computer screen), we find a closer connection to them. You will find that your teachers will be quicker to forgive silly spelling mistakes or missed classes if you are showing to them regularly that you are present in class, ready to learn and that you are making the greatest effort to know and understand the content. This is a basic human rule; if someone shows interest in your work (a teacher’s classroom and the content they compile for you all is their work), then you will surely be particular to them over someone who is entirely indifferent or clearly disinterested. Now, know this, simply because your teachers are more likely to show some leniency when you prove to be an interested student, does not obligate them to do so. Showing that you are present in class goes beyond filling out the attendance worksheet or bellwork. You have to make as much of an effort as possible to ensure your teacher knows you are at least trying to understand the content of the class to the best of your ability. This piece of advice in particular will go a long way. This will make your focus and retention of the information taught in class increase tenfold and I guarantee you, your grades will get better if you honestly make an effort to truly be in class, full presence accounted for.

3. Let the Light In

Open your curtains/blinds to let some natural light in; studies show that sunlight improves your mood which can improve focus and information retention. If you are regularly taking class in the dark, you will have a far harder time understanding the content and finding interest in the topics being discussed.

4. Trust Issues Averted

I have always had trouble with knowing which sources are trustworthy and which were not when it came to studying before the pandemic. I pulled anything and everything up online to find answers but was never sure what was giving me the information I needed for papers and posts for class. Eventually I came to limit myself to only using .gov, .org, .net, and .edu sites for supporting articles and found myself corrected far less often by my professors. However, as I said, this was quite limiting and I could never find all of the information I needed so I branched out. I learned that what makes up a trustworthy source is not only the domain name. If a source has the author’s name, a date published, contact information as to where the publicist, authors, or editors might be reached in case of inquiries, sources for the article are cited in some way, and few to no pop-ups or ads, then the site is likely trustworthy. If you are unsure of whether an article is trustworthy or not, the best bet is simply to move on and find a source that is more secure.

5. This education is ultimately for you

Many students will forget while taking classes, online or in person, that these classes, these readings, these lessons are for you. The classroom was created not to fill the ego of some adults; it is not a space where teachers exist to flout their degrees and feel superior to young adults, or rather the classroom definitely shouldn't be. With this in mind, do not be afraid to treat the classroom as though it is for yourself and your peers to learn the content to the best of your ability. When you are in the classroom (zoom or otherwise), ask all the questions that come to mind and speak up when something does not click. When topics are brought up that incite excitement in you whether that be a positive passion for the subject or frustration and confusion with the curriculum, speak your mind and spur a conversation. When you show passion for a subject, others will likely follow and your classroom atmosphere will be all the better for it. I recognize that most students have heard this before, but few seem to retain this cliche: If you have a question, you are probably not the only one. Do not be afraid to click that “raise hand” button on the zoom or throw those questions into the chat. And when your teacher seems to miss it for some reason, bring the point back up later and ask for clarification. This is your classroom and your teaching experience; you and your peers deserve the best out of all of this, whether online or not, because this is setting you up for the future. Ensure that in the future you can look back and thank yourself for looking out by being purposeful in your presence and excited for discussion.

This has been self-studying during a global pandemic (U.S. edition) with Giulia Becker Miller. I know that if you take some of this advice, or better yet, all of it, you will see improvement not only in your grades but also in your overall study experience.

Written by writer Giulia Becker Miller


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