Whether we like it or not, we are now part of the biggest social change in higher education for a generation. It’s been forced on us at short notice, but now it’s time to put all those warm words about resilience, flexibility, innovation and adaption that you see in University course documents and prospectuses everywhere to be put into practice.
You’ll have worked from home before, but it’s unlikely most people will have encountered anything of this magnitude, nor this probable duration. What will be key for most students is learning how to build a reliable system and timetable of learning over the weeks and months ahead that works for them.
It’s important to have a guiding principle for your ‘home learning’ and to make it work for you. Don’t let your education be defined by COVID-19. This is a new but temporary reality, and we can’t just go into a coma for the coming months. We need to strive to be in the best possible shape for the world afterwards. Many people will be scared, and the virus will alter many parts of our lives, not just our studies. A key part of all this, especially for students, will be to find new ways to stay social, to stay connected.
I’ve studied at home for years, (and have the coffee stains on the sofa to prove it) so I have collated these tips for those of you in Higher Education.
Keep your eye on your end-goal. Your dream career and everything you study for (employment, qualifications) isn’t over. It’s just got a Corona shaped interval in it. Everyone’s plans are paused. This is a disease we’ll get through; we’ve been through worse. Be ready for the world that will emerge out of this. If you’re a third year degree student, keep practicing your interview techniques and building your portfolio. If you are a first year, complete all your exercises, and in the absence of anything else, revisit and finish earlier exercises, or even ask other years if you can help out with their work.
Don’t dwell on deficit: don’t obsess on what you have lost right now. We need to adapt, ready for a different world that may emerge from this. It’s quite possible the job you were studying for in the first place will change after we emerge from the COVID shadow, so that’s all the more reason to continue learning in this new online mode NOW. Accept the situation: “why me?” and moping is not an option. Don’t feel sorry for yourself, no-one signed up for this global pandemic.
If you are reading this, you are human. As such, recognise your emotions will change wildly from day to day. Accept this. You may well oscillate between the freedom of daytime tv and “Hurray! I don’t need to travel to College” to anger and frustration with the world (either Boris, your tutors, your mates, our lizard shape-shifting overlords etc), and feeling you are going stir crazy. Don’t let this eat away at you. Being worried and scared are natural. There’s no road map for this. Accept your fluctuating moods; document them, good and bad. Notice patterns and see what might trigger them.
It’ll be a world of stress for a while; for tutors, management and your peers. We’re all finding our feet. Some of us are crawling. Generally, everyone’s working round the clock to try to keep your course together, even if you can’t see it. There’s no manual on how to transfer a course online or how to ensure a personal service.
Move furniture around. Rearrange your space at home to aid study. Most likely your living space isn’t kitted out for sustained study. Are you able to have a study space- a corner you go to specifically for study? Can you surround yourself with prompts that help you treat that space as a place of work, where you can get down to business? Clear distractions. Move the TV. Put coursework up on the walls. Let your space know you mean business.
Structure your day but vary your routine. Every day doesn’t have to be the same, but it’s important you give yourself a structure. Make days different for variety’s sake but keep a consistent structure. Start studying at the same time.
Get up early on a work day, and clock off at a regular time. This is really important. Achieving your potential will depend on getting up early and treating workdays professionally. Work an eight hour day but clock off at 5 or 6pm. Pace yourselves. Getting up late and working late achieves nothing towards the professional world you want to enter.
Give yourself rewards, let your hair down. Congratulate yourselves and encourage each other. No Booze or Deliveroo Noms until you’ve finished that task or exercise. Treat yourself to an evening Netflix binge after the work is done for the day.
Put the social back into your learning. Organise yourselves into study cells; arrange to virtually meet and discuss your progress with your mates. Organise crits or presentations, or even set your own research. Being able to say you proactively set up your own study group and explain what you did in the weeks ahead will be a game changer for your CV after we emerge!
You can’t just transplant a course online and expect the same emotional attachment, the same experience, or the same results. Don’t see online learning in terms of a deficit, in terms of what you are missing, but look at its affordances.
Eat well, sleep well, exercise. Now your work/life balance is up to you. A jog in the early morning with nothing but empty streets is a good way to kick-start your brain. Graze sensibly at home. Keep to meal times where possible as part of your routine. Your brain will try to trick you into breaking into a pack of HobNobs and before you know it you are slouched in front of the telly in your PJs and have lost the morning.
Be ready for the upturn; be ready to create a new world. We are all creatures of habit and our brains fight against change. But if we can develop new habits of learning online together you can be ready to build the world you want to see emerge. There’s a famous WW1 recruitment poster where a young child asks her guilty looking elderly father “Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?” When this is all over don’t have the regret of thinking you didn’t make the most of the time because you couldn’t adapt.
Keep a journal if that helps- a diary of your creativity. Observations, doodles, cut out magazine photos, layout ideas. See this as catharsis rather than coursework. Any kind of creativity is good in the face of adversity. No-one has to see it. Just keep moving forward.
People make industries, not tech. Keep social. Mingle online, use your phones; hear real voices. Listening to each other’s voice is better than lines of text. Dedicate yourself to emerging from this as a more complete person. It won’t be easy, but remember there are people who care for you, and your tutors and Universities are all dedicated to ensuring we emerge blinking into the new world as better people.
Remember to laugh: Re-watch your favourite comedy shows. Mighty Boosh for me thank you very much.
Books and resources I found useful: Deep Work by Cal Newport, Atomic Habits by James Clear, How We learn by Benedict Carey, Understanding How We Learn by Yana Weinstein and Megan Sumeracki. Oh, and the Mighty Boosh (Series 1, 2004). Also look at The Learning Scientists
OK, that’s the end of my list. Since we’re in this together, maybe you want to add your own in the comments? See you all soon!