Adjusting your study habits during the COVID-19 remote semester

We’ll get through this together.

2020 students

Things may feel out-of-control right now. You may be facing a lot of unknowns and disruptions. Try to be patient with yourself, your classmates, and your instructors during this time. Take care of your wellbeing first. Making a plan and adjusting your studying may help you feel even a little sense of control. 

Use this resource as a starting point

In this guide, we’ll talk about:

Your study habits may need to change.

While more of your coursework and teamwork have to be online and remote, here are some strategies to keep in mind:

1. Staying organized.

With so many things changing in your courses, you might be reliving that first-week-of-class confusion at finals-week pace.

Here are some things you might want to keep track of for each class:

Are in-person parts of the class changing?

  • What are the in-person parts of this course?  (lecture, lab, etc.)
  • Where can you find it or how do you access it? (live-stream, lecture capture, etc.)
  • Is it at a specific time or can you watch it anytime?

Are assignments changing?

  • Are there new due dates?
  • Is how you’re submitting your assignments changing?
  • Are any quizzes or exams being offered virtually? What should you do if you need help?
  • Is your course offering virtual office hours? When and on what platform?
  • Is there an online forum for asking questions?

 One example of a way you could keep track

Class 1 Class 2 Class 3
Important dates     Paper Due Friday
big changes No lab
Live lecture
Discussion optional / Recorded lecture May do paper instead of a group project
important links Lecture link
Office hours link
Discussion link
Lecture link
Group paper folder

2. Avoiding multitasking

If you’re doing more work on your own and your time is less structured, you might be more tempted to multitask. Many people think they can do multiple things at once. But research shows us that only about 2% of the population can multitask. Even if you feel like you’re multitasking, you’re probably not… really, you’re switching between tasks very quickly (some call this “micro-tasking”).

The downsides of multitasking and micro-tasking:

  • Assignments take longer. Each time you come back to an assignment (from Instagram for example), you have to get familiar with it, find your spot, remember what you were going to do next, etc.
  • You’re more likely to make mistakes. Distractions and switching between tasks tires out the brain.
  • You’ll remember less. When your brain is divided, you’re less able to commit what you’re learning to long-term memory (because it doesn’t get encoded properly into your brain).

What to do instead:
When you need to study something important, consider  The Magic of Monotasking.

  • Focus on one thing at a time.
  • Take breaks between tasks.
  • Consider the “pomodoro method” to help you focus for 25- or 50-minute periods and then reward yourself with 5- or 10-minute breaks.

3. Making the most of video lectures

  • Stick to your instructor’s schedule as much as you can. Staying on a schedule will help you have a feeling of normalcy and prevent you from falling way behind.
  • Find out how to ask questions. Is there a chat feature? Is there a discussion forum?
  • Close distracting tabs and apps. Humans are not as good at multitasking as they think!  (See #2 above.)
  • Continue to take notes as you would if you were there in person.
  • Watch recordings at normal speed. Research shows that playback speed of 1.5x can lower your retention and can result in lower scores on assessments. Faster playback speeds are worse for complex, multi-step material (which most of your lectures probably are). Remember: this is all about 1.5x. There hasn’t even been research on 2x playback speed, which is probably even worse.

4. Setting a schedule

As the situation unfolds, you may have fewer social commitments, group meetings, or work hours. Setting a schedule for yourself can help provide structure and keep you motivated. If you don’t already keep a weekly or daily calendar, try something like the example below to organize your time. Include time for exercise and self-care.
Schedule Template

Scheduled ActivityCourse TasksPersonal/Self care
8 am     Shower, Breakfast
9 amCall in for  remote lecture    
10 am   Read chapter 3  
11 am     Break – video call with friend
12 pm     Lunch
1 pm   Read chapter 4  
2 pmRecap lecture with classmate    

5. Trading your strategies for new ones

Your routines may have to adjust during this time. Look for ways to adapt your usual habits or form new ones.  For example:

  • If you usually study in a coffee shop or library, ask yourself what kind of environment helps you study. See if you can recreate that at home. Maybe it’s studying in a chair, rather than on your bed or couch, or moving to a new spot when you change tasks. If you feel you need background noise, consider a white noise app. 
  • If you always study in groups, try a virtual or even phone-based study session with your group. 
  • If you thrive on tight timelines, but now have a more open schedule, think about how working with others or setting up a schedule can recreate that for you. When that gets hard, see if you can even do fifteen minutes at a time.

6. Working with a group or team

Remote collaboration will look a little different, but it is definitely possible.

  • Try not to procrastinate. That group project may be out-of-sight, out-of-mind if you aren’t seeing each other regularly. Resist the urge to put it off. Make small progress and stay in touch.
  • Meet regularly, especially if you usually touch base during class or lab. Consider a quick text on your group chat about progress every couple of days. Ideally, have real conversations over video any week you’re working together.
  • Set a purpose for meetings and use a shared notes doc. Meetings might feel different when using video, even if your team was really good at working informally in the past. Try to set the purpose of your meeting in advance. Take notes in a shared doc so you can all contribute and follow along. 
  • Keep videos open when you can. As long as you can see whatever you need to collaborate, aim to keep the video visible on your computer screen. It’ll help you see the expressions of your teammates and stay connected to each other.
  • Check on each other and ask for backup: If someone has been absent from your group meetings or chat, ask them directly if they’re still able to participate in the project. If you aren’t getting responses within a day or two, let your instructor know. Know it isn’t being petty, it’s your team’s responsibility.

7. Staying connected to other people

Even if we limit how much face-to-face time we spend with others on campus, connecting with family and friends might be more important than ever. And staying in touch with instructors, classmates, and group mates is still important for continued classwork. Here are a few ideas:

  • Schedule video calls with friends and family. Talking with loved ones is often really helpful when you’re stressed or nervous about something. Taking a break to have a laugh is also important.
  • Use Google Hangouts, Zoom, FaceTime, or other programs to connect with classmates to talk through a tough problem
  • Attend virtual office hours or study groups so that you can stay up on your coursework.

8. Tips for using Zoom for remote classes

Many classes will be using Zoom to connect going forward. The following are some tips and tricks that should help you get started with Zoom.
Joining a Zoom meeting:

  • For remote classes, your professor will send out a link to join the Zoom classroom. This will be done through Moodle, email, or your class website.
    • If prompted with a dialogue box while joining, click the “Open Zoom Meetings” option.
    • You will be shown a “Video Preview” tab where you will have the option to join the classroom with or without video. Join according to the instructions from your professor.
    • If prompted, be sure to click “Join with Computer Audio” to participate in class conversation.
  • Audio
    • If you cannot find a quiet space for your class session, be sure to use headphones.
    • Click the carrot or up arrow (“^”) next to the audio button (microphone in the bottom left of the taskbar) to toggle a menu. Then select your headphones for both microphone and speaker.
    • You’ll know you are muted when the microphone icon in the bottom left has a slash over it.
    • Click the microphone icon/button to toggle between muted and unmuted.
      • When you want to participate, you’ll have to unmute yourself by clicking the icon.
      • You’ll know you are unmuted when the icon is without a slash and the microphone shows green volume bars that rise and fall based on the volume.
  • Video
    • Stop/start video by clicking the camera icon in the bottom left.
    • You will get a message if you have bandwidth problems. If you do, turn off your video for better connection.
  • Speaker View v. Gallery View
    • Speaker view shows the person who is speaking as the monitor taking up the biggest space.
    • Gallery view shows all participants equally in a grid.
  • Click on “Participants” so you can have access to raising your hand and answering yes/no questions.
  • Click on “Chat” to have access to ask questions or make comments, receive messages from your professor, or chat with other classmates if needed.
  • You can also host your own meetings:

9. If something isn’t working…

These adjustments may test our limits, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for adjustment or improvement.

  • In an academic setting:
    • Students should contact their professor immediately if they’re having problems, who can then refer to T&I or AADR or other office if it requires a specific intervention beyond a faculty adjustment.
  • In your new location:
    • For some of you, the last time you had homework to complete away from Davidson’s campus was in high school. Communicate with those you are living with about your expectations for being a Davidson student, such as where and when you will be doing your work and asking not to be disturbed while plugged into Zoom for a live class session.

Please remember, this will pass.

If COVID has disrupted your travel plans, ended a lab experiment you were excited about, or for any reason feels like it came at the worst possible time, remember: this is temporary. You’ll find your way when it settles down. You’ll get back on track, and things will get back to normal. We don’t know when, but it will happen.

Until then, take a deep breath, do your best, get some rest, observe social distancing, and wash your hands.

Additional Resources

This document has been adapted from the Center for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan with resources specific to Davidson College. The original can be found here.

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