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Lysbet Murray of the University of Delaware’s Office of Academic Enrichment (OAE) offers some tips on making the transition from normal campus learning to working remotely.

How to study remotely

Photo by Leah Dodd

Five tips for learning from home

You finally did it.

You discovered a coffee shop that makes perfect lattes for a late-night cram session. You found a seat in the library that is comfortable — but not too comfortable. You joined a study group capable of deciphering the hieroglyphics in your chemistry textbook. In other words: You hit your academic groove. 

And then? The coronavirus (COVID-19) upended it all. Or at least it feels this way.

Due to the pandemic, students across the country — including those from the University of Delaware — are moving to online classes only. In some cases, this means attempting to learn in a quarantined apartment, without escape from loud or messy roommates. In other cases, this means attempting to learn in a childhood bedroom, without escape from loud or messy family members.

But don’t throw in the towel — er, laptop — just yet. There are people working around the clock to make sure students are supported and successful as this virtual semester unfolds. We caught up with one of them, Lysbet Murray of UD’s Office of Academic Enrichment (OAE), for some tips on making this transition as seamless as possible. (Sorry, locking your little brother in the linen closet is not one of them.) 

Five strategies for online academic success:

  1. Fake it. No, you’re not on campus anymore. But this doesn’t mean you cannot — to the best of your ability — approximate what worked for you there. Critically important is finding a comfortable space you can designate for academic work only. Once you do, set boundaries for roommates or family members on entering this space — in other words, during specific periods, ask loved ones to pretend you aren’t at home but, say, away at UD. For this dialogue to be successful, it is important not to bark orders at your parents or Great Aunt Ethel. Instead, Murray advised, frame your request as just that: a request. “Tell them what you need to achieve academic success, and then enlist their help in getting there,” she said. “Tell them you will also set aside time just to be with them — and, during those times, you will pretend you are not a student.”  
  2. Do it your way… to an extent. When it comes to studying from home, there is more than one path to success. For instance, some students will feel crippled by clutter, while others will find a little mess helps them think outside the box. Some students will be most productive in the morning, while others will do their best work at night.  “Find the period that you feel most alive, the most alert,” Murray said. “And focus your academic efforts then. This is not one size fits all.” Big caveat: Certain hard-and-fast rules become even more hard-and-fast during periods of anxiety: Good sleep, nutrition, and exercise are non-negotiable. So, even if you were a couch potato who happily survived on pizza and popsicles prior to the pandemic, you may need to boost healthy habits in this new normal — your grades will thank you.
  3. Be kind to yourself. You may discover in your first remote-studying week that trying to work at the kitchen table means you spend more time snacking than studying. You may find that taking a nap at noon is a productivity disaster that leaves you groggy for the rest of the day. You may find that — despite what the science says — 71 degrees is not your optimal studying temperature. The point is: “This is trial and error,” Murray said. So, rather than beat yourself up when you come upon an obstacle, think of each hiccup not as failure but as part of the educational process. “At a certain point, you have to remember that you’re a good-enough student. You’re a good-enough studier. And, sometimes, that’s good enough.” 
  4. Breathe. Or do whatever activity helps you to breathe. Maybe that’s Tai Chi. Maybe that’s petting the dog. Maybe that’s bingeing the new season of Ozark on Netflix. The point is, downtime is important for letting information settle and take hold in the brain. Put another way: There “has to be some balance between hard work and finding what feeds your soul,” Murray said, adding that there are many leisure-time options being offered online at no charge during this period of self quarantine. “There are virtual Broadway shows, operas, National Park tours, and there is even children’s book author Mo Willems doing a 20-minute doodling session five days a week. It’s geared for kids, but I did it the other day and thought it was adorable.” The best way to go about these study breaks is to schedule them into your day, which will not only help you stay on task, according to Murray, but will lend a sense of control during what feels like an out-of-control period — and control is a key component of successful academic work. Pro tip: Make sure some of these breaks take you outside, since (socially distanced) time in nature can improve mood and boost productivity
  5. Know you are not alone — even when you’re alone. If you are the only student in your lecture hall — ie, your kitchen — it can feel like you’re the only one who isn’t grasping material or understanding instructions. For this reason, it is important to “lessen isolation as much as possible,” Murray said. Take advantage of a professor’s online office hours, and make an effort to connect with other students in your class via online Zoom study sessions or apps like GroupMe or WhatsApp. And don’t forget that all of UD’s campus resources have been reformatted for use online and are still available — from individual and group tutoring at OAE, to counseling services, to guidance from the writing center. “It’s like that Mr. Rogers saying: ‘Look for the helpers,’ ” Murray said. “We are here. We may be virtual, but we are here. And we want nothing more than to help you succeed.”

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