Preparing to be a Work-from-Home Student
This fall, some of our students will be learning remotely, away from Charlottesville, while many will have a mix of online and in-person classes. The advice below was initially written for students working from home, but much of it is useful for anyone. Wherever and however you may be taking classes this fall, our pandemic-adjusted context will require some flexibility, self-discipline, and planning in order to make up for the structure that life on grounds usually helps to provide.
The overarching theme of the guidance below is that you will need to create structure for yourself in order to succeed in your classes and as you continue to pursue other goals. Consider how your presence on grounds normally helps to structure your day in ways which may now be lacking: Your routines with friends, student organizations, and a job will change. If some of your classes move to a format that does not require you to be in class at a specific time, or if attendance policies change, you may not feel the same pressure to structure your life around your coursework.
To adjust for those shifts, you will need to find ways to create that structure for yourself. Below are some suggestions and considerations as you work to do this.
Plan your time
- First, here are some tools that you might find useful in implementing the suggestions below.
- This is a link to a printable grid of one week that can be helpful for planning. Pro tip: This grid looks intimidating, but only because it’s been blocked out in 15-minute increments, since that’s roughly in line with how classes are schedule. Don’t use it to make an iron-clad plan with every minute of your week dedicated to a specific task. It can be too easy to get discouraged if your day doesn’t go as planned. Instead, use it as a tool to make sure you are thinking ahead about your obligations so that you are not caught off guard. Use pencil!
- This is a link to a printable weekly workload planner. It’s easy to write out something similar of your own design, too. If you were only going to do one thing for time management and planning, this should be it! Sit down every weekend and think about the coming week. Make a list of everything you need to do that week, then plot it out by the day, allowing extra time for big assignments, if you’re not feeling well, or if you need to get some help with something.
- Choose your preferred tool for keeping track of your to-do list, due dates, and schedule. It does not matter if it is one of those linked just above, a mobile app, wall calendar, or bound paper agenda. The important thing is that it is a format that you will actually use. You might consider whether it would be helpful to keep your schedule somewhere that is visible to your family or roommates so that they know when you are likely to be busy.
- Review each of your syllabi at the beginning of the semester. Block out class sessions and other time-specific obligations, write down deadlines, and create phone or sticky note reminders for important tasks. Faculty have worked hard to redesign courses for a changed calendar and/or mode of delivery. It’s probably safe to assume that they might need to make some changes to the schedule and/or assignments as the semester goes on. With that in mind, watch for announcements related to changes in due dates, assignments, and exams. Update your calendar accordingly as soon as you hear of changes.
- As the semester gets moving and you get an idea of what the workload will look like for each class, think carefully about just how much time you spend on coursework. It will help you to plan later in the semester when deadlines and exams start to pile up. Write this information out in a way that makes sense to you, and use it to draft a daily and weekly task list and schedule. Be realistic about how much you are able to accomplish in one day, and build in extra buffer time when you have big assignments due.
- While class times and other meetings may have a predetermined time, it will be up to you to define the structure of much of your day. Once you know how much time you will need to devote to your coursework, think about the best time of day for you to do that. Depending upon your living arrangements, you should consider the schedules of others in your house or apartment.
- Schedule time to spend with family and friends, even if it is over the phone or online. There are a few reasons to do this. First, knowing that you have made time for relaxation and socializing will make it easier to focus on the task on hand when you need to be reading or studying. Second– and this will be especially important if you have trouble with friends and family seeking your attention during times when you are occupied with coursework– it will signal to them that you have considered their needs and schedules and that you care about them, but that you also need to prioritize your studies.
Discuss schedules, boundaries, and expectations with your family or roommates
- Whether you are living at home with your family or with other students in a house or apartment, you should sit down and have a discussion about how you can help each other with this adjustment. Try to have this discussion prior to the start of classes.
- Prepare for this discussion by constructing an outline of the amount of time that you will need to devote to coursework and the types of tasks you will be doing. For example, will you sometimes need quiet space so that you can engage in online class discussions using a speaker and microphone? Your family or roommates will be better able to support your learning if they are aware of your needs.
- If you are living at home with family members who work or are also in school, consider working during the same hours that they do to help remove the temptation to socialize when you intended to be studying. Plan ahead to share technology resources or favored working spaces.
- If you are living in a household with young children or others who require care, be sure to clarify with the rest of your family who will be responsible for providing that care and at what times.
Prepare your study space and state of mind
- Keep your learning materials handy. Make it easy for yourself to attend class or complete assignments. Keep paper, pens, chargers, and other materials all together to make work convenient. If possible, keep a dedicated space in your home set up with these materials ready to go. If it’s not possible to keep a dedicated space, then keep everything together in a box or backpack, and treat that at your mobile home office.
- Do you need quiet space to engage in online classes? If you cannot escape background noise in your home, remember to mute the microphone as needed. Keep a notecard handy stating that class is in session, and make it visible to others in your living space.
- You should develop habits around your state of mind as well. Get dressed for an online class just as you would for an in-person class. Take a few minutes before each class session to think about what material will be covered that day and what questions you may have. You might normally do that while you walk or ride the bus to class. That’s a great habit, and you should try to maintain it as an online learner. If you have trouble shifting your focus away from goings-on in your apartment or with your family, try quiet breathing exercises as you sit down to study.
Stay connected to friends and University resources
- Find ways to stay connected with friends and classmates. If you always eat meals with the same group when you’re on grounds, try having a regular group call while you eat so that you can catch up and support each other. Designating a time for these chats will also help to keep you focused during your scheduled work hours. Lean on your friends for social support, but also work to keep each other accountable to your goals and priorities.
- Check with your instructors about whether they encourage similar online interactions for class study groups. They may be open to ideas about how to engage students in their coursework and support their success during this time.
- While it may take some time—especially at first—for offices to be able to return every email or find out the answer to every question, we still encourage you to reach out and ask for help when you need it.
- Be patient with your faculty as they work to reformat their courses and address any unforeseen issues that are likely to arise, but be sure to email or call (as directed by each faculty member) when you need clarification or feel that you are missing information. Don’t wait till the last minute!
- Our libraries are open and staff are prepared to assist with research and coursework. Don’t hesitate to ask! If you don’t know where to start, try the Ask a Librarian chat tool.
- The University Career Center has adjusted their operations to include more virtual offerings. Exploring your career interests and options can be a great way to keep yourself motivated and focused on the future. Check their site for ways to get connected.
- Before classes start, determine whether you will have reliable internet access. If you’re not sure, be proactive in communicating to your faculty that you are concerned about your ability to access course materials.
- If you find that you are having trouble creating or sticking to a structured schedule, think about keeping a time diary. Write down just how much time you are spending on various activities each day. If the results show that you are spending too much time watching TV, for example, then this will help you to be honest with yourself and to align your daily activities with your priorities and goals.
- The role of the Student Disability Access Center (SDAC) is to ensure access and inclusion for students with disabilities through the approval of academic and other accommodations. We recognize that students’ perception of whether they need accommodations may change as they start college or depending upon whether their classes are primarily online or in-person, and we encourage those with questions to contact SDAC.
Additional reading about being a successful online learner
- Online Learning: A User-Friendly Approach for High School and College Students, by Leslie Bowman. (E-book, available online through the UVA Libraries.)
- Six Time Management Tips for Online Learners, by Tamar Shulsigner. (A blog post at Northeastern University.)
Contributed by Katie Densberger, Director of the Georges Student Center, 3/12/2020, updated 7/23/2020
Other Guidance on Adjusting: