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Insights from a summer of remote learning

The academic semester can feel like a blur of stress and deadlines. Don't forget to build in breaks!
Published by Julia Lane

With this summer term being held entirely online, I found myself struggling to draw a line between school and my personal life. When do I start doing schoolwork? When can I stop and take breaks? It feels as though I have so much free time, but at the same time all of that 'free time' could be put towards work, work, and more work. Seeing that online instruction will continue for the fall, I've put together some strategies and thoughts for setting boundaries and keeping a healthy mindset in remote learning.

You're allowed to take time off

A reminder to all students: You do not need to be constantly doing schoolwork. Employees are allowed to clock out of work once the day is done. Give yourself permission, as students, to pack away your schoolwork at the end of the day. By making sure that you get sufficient time off the clock to rest your mind, you are also making sure that the time you're actively doing schoolwork is as effective and efficient as possible.

Set a schedule

Yes, you might already have an imposed schedule for lectures, tutorials, and seminars. But setting a schedule for any asynchronous coursework you have could be just as important! Having times blocked off to do your readings and homework doesn't mean that you necessarily have less personal time; rather, think of it as respecting the sanctity of your time off work. When you make the call to designate particular times as work hours, you're also actively designating time to not do work, maximizing the free time you have.

Pro tip: For assignments like ongoing Canvas discussions, you don't need to constantly refresh the discussion thread for new comments to respond to. Instead, set aside specific times to tackle the discussion thread. For my weekly discussions, I make time when the thread opens to make my initial comment, check it once or twice in the middle of the week, and do one final read-through the evening that the discussion thread closes to address any final comments.

If you have notifications turned on for different school-related apps (e.g. Canvas, Mail, Slack), you can also artificially create boundaries by scheduling 'Do Not Disturb' periods. If your phone or mobile device has the ability to sort app notifications by priority, you can also set notifications from school-related apps to only send during your self-imposed 'working hours,' or at least not during resting periods.

Simulate a separate working space

If you're fortunate enough to have a separate workstation from your sleeping and recreational spaces at home, try to maintain that division between different facets of your life. This helps you by associating spaces with different activities or mental states, and signals your brain when you're starting work versus when you're clocking out. Having all your necessary supplies and resources gathered in one place that is accessible to your workstation will also mean that you don't have to get up and leave the 'zone' once you enter it to work.

Pro tip: Create routines to get in and out of the 'zone.' When classes were held in-person, your routine of grooming, dressing, eating, and/or commuting helped jumpstart your 'school mode.' Now that you're learning from home, you can replace this out-of-the-house routine with some at-home friendly activities, such as making coffee or tea before sitting down at your desk. (Inspired by Daniel Titchener's The Importance of Routine. Watch the linked video to find out why he thinks routine is important, especially for people working from home.)

If many of your spaces serve multiple functions, then try to differentiate your 'spaces' in different ways. If you do work on your bed, sit in a different orientation than your sleeping position. Pack away your work once your recreational times start, and vice versa. For example, I use my keyboard tray to stow away 'fun' stuff to keep me focused during working periods.

Remember to celebrate your successes

In the twelve- or thirteen- week academic grind, it's easy for everything to feel like one massive blur of deadlines and stress, and to feel that your work each day is insignificant. But remember to take a moment to recognize everything that you've been able to learn and accomplish over the short span of the term, especially when navigating a new learning environment. Do weekly or biweekly roundups and look at all the assignments that you've been able to complete, the deadlines you met, the readings you finished, and the content you learned. Even the smallest Canvas discussion response counts!

Of course, this is not limited to just your schoolwork. Your life probably doesn't revolve only around your status as a student, so it makes sense to also celebrate successes outside of school, no matter how small. Did you manage to wake up before noon on your off days? Learn a new recipe? Create a cohesive aesthetic for your Animal Crossing island? Help your workplace launch a new project? Chalk it all up to your personal wins!

At the end of the day, just as we may all have different learning styles for in-person instruction, you may need different strategies that best suit your experience of remote learning. But taking care of and being kind to yourself in whatever capacity you are able is always an important part of setting boundaries and staying healthy, regardless of the external circumstances.

Welcome to your remote fall semester. I wish you the best for your studies and your well-being this term. 

- Grace L., former SLC Writing and Learning Peer and SFU Alumni 


Image credit

break by DinosoftLab from the Noun Project