Reflecting On A Semester Of Remote Learning

This year has been full of unpredictable moments, and after nearly a full semester of remote learning, I have some thoughts on how this style of education has impacted me and my learning habits. If you had asked me last year where I would be in November 2020, I would have told you that I would be studying abroad in Florence, Italy, traveling around Europe and getting inspiration for some creative design projects. However, along with many peoples' plans for this year, that is not how the fall semester turned out for me. Instead, I quickly changed my plans back in March and applied for on-campus living for the semester, with only triple rooms available at that time (yes, I had three sets of furniture to myself). What I thought would be an exciting semester full of traveling and socializing turned into a lot of staring at my computer screen and trying to find good wall décor for the background of my classes on Zoom. Reflecting on this semester, I have determined what has worked for me with remote learning and what hurdles I had to navigate that I would rather avoid in the spring.

Expectation vs. Reality

Although I had one in-person class this semester, I spent the majority of my class time in virtual meetings. From the bit of experience with remote learning from this past spring, I knew that these virtual classes on Zoom were not my preferred method of learning, especially as a fashion design major. I went into this semester dreading the fact that my 10-hour per week design studio was going to be completely remote, worried that I would have to be on the call the whole class period instead of the normally relaxed work time I would have with an in-person studio. In reality, I was right to dread that as the first month or two of classes went exactly as I had feared. Lack of work time allotted during class made it so I had to make a lot of extra time outside of class to work on assignments. In the end, my professor ended up making the class asynchronous in the last few weeks because the format of the class was simply not working remotely. Another fear I had was that there would be numerous and ongoing technological difficulties. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly we all seemed to adapt to the online learning technology, even though the first few weeks were a bit rough. Finally, I feared what I like to call the “online class effect.” This is when you are taking a class that is completely online (usually a core class) and you consistently procrastinate on the assignments because you do not have to be accountable for physically going to the class. I feared this would happen with all of my classes with remote learning. Unfortunately for me, this definitely started happening the moment the semester started.

Woman with curly hair waving and saying hi to someone through her laptop. Photo by Yan from Pexels

My Complaints w/ Remote Learning

With this fear of falling behind, I tried to keep up with my usual routine of making to-do lists and constant reminders for myself. What I did not expect to happen, though, was that the procrastination was not all because I had little motivation to do the work, but because I had such a lack of inspiration. As a design major, I need to constantly find new sources of inspiration in order to complete my assignments but being stuck in my room all day drained any sense of inspiration I had. This made it nearly impossible to get motivated to do any design assignments, and any that I managed to complete were not anything I was proud of. This continued to be a struggle throughout the semester.

As I mentioned earlier, some of my classes were simply not working in the remote format. Although I could have assumed that these courses would not work well in this way, it took nearly the entire semester for some of my professors to understand that the format was flawed. I know that some students and educators are enjoying the online and work-from-home environment, and that is great for them. I just hope that going forward we do not see all courses becoming online-only because it worked well for some. Courses should be taught in their most ideal situation when we have the option for more in-person gatherings.

A complaint I saw from many of my peers as well as myself is the way that free time was perceived by our professors and by ourselves. With people staying at home more, there is this concept that we now have more time to work. I witnessed some professors tell us we needed to prioritize our mental health and take days off while continuously giving us more assignments than we ever would have received before. However, I found myself adopting this idea as well, finding myself working on projects at all hours of the night just because I was not doing anything else. All of my time management skills I held onto quite strongly from high school went out the window this semester.

Woman staring at phone at night Photo by mikoto.raw from Pexels

Changes I Am Making For Next Semester

Going into another semester of remote learning, I know that I have to be diligent and set guidelines for myself in order to not repeat this semester of unnecessary stress and late nights. Recently I figured out that the type of planning I had been using for years was no longer working for this type of remote schedule. Instead of making a traditional bullet journal spread with all the days of the week and the events/tasks for each day, I began creating a more simplified to-do list for each week broken down by each class and organization I have tasks for. (Because– let’s face it, we do not really need to have a whole area for events each day of the week right now.) This method helped me get more organized and keep track of the tasks that are important.

Another change I will be making next semester is to enforce work hours for myself. It was something I tried to do but found myself getting away from it as the semester went on. A technique I learned in high school and will be using again is to work for intervals of about twenty minutes with a three-minute break period. This has helped me retain a strong focus for the 20 minutes with constant break time as small rewards for when my mind is all over the place. If you are considering starting this process, I would recommend setting a timer to get used to how much you can achieve in those twenty minutes and ensuring that you only take short breaks (do not go on TikTok).

My final change may sound a bit trivial, but I plan to try to forgive myself more when things do not go to plan. We all know this year has been unpredictable and we cannot set standards for ourselves that expect us to be working at the same level we did before we had to make all of these lifestyle changes. Although I am attempting to get more organized with my time and planning next semester, I also want to make sure that I am allowing myself to take breaks if I need them and to check-in with myself. I hope that you will also be kind to yourself going forward and set realistic goals that do not focus on where you could be right now if things were different. We all have to adapt to and navigate these unpredictable times.

Back-to-school supplies, agenda Alexa Williams

Final Thoughts

This semester has been very different than I ever would have expected, with some low moments and some unexpected great memories. I learned to cherish the times I got to talk to my friends or had a meaningful conversation with a professor. I have to constantly remind myself that we are all going through this and we are re-adjusting our lives around these recent changes. I hope that we all reflect on what worked and what did not work this year and make the meaningful changes we need going forward to hopefully have a much more relaxed and fulfilling spring semester.