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Angela Wei / Columbia Daily Spectator

As both Columbia and Barnard have moved to online learning systems in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been a number of curveballs thrown at our lives, which have forced us to adapt to a whole new system of learning. We went from in-person interactions to social distancing, from traveling to quarantining, and from lecture halls to online Zoom sessions. With online classes officially in session, instructors and students alike are scrambling to adjust to the new learning platform.

Now, revised syllabi and links to online class sessions fill our inboxes. To help with these dramatic shifts, Spectrum came up with some guidelines to follow for your new online classes!

Understand the pass/ fail grading system.

Understanding the newly-mandated pass/fail grading system for spring 2020 will help you manage your workload and hopefully mitigate your worries about letter grades under such unpredictable conditions. This semester, instructors will have mandatory pass/fail options for grading. That means that even courses that you usually cannot pass/fail, such as those in the Core Curriculum or your major, can be fulfilled with a pass. However, faculty are still prompted to offer evaluative feedback on student work.

When in doubt, reach out!

It’s completely normal to feel uncertain and reluctant about online classes. Remember that you are one of many who hold reservations about virtual learning, and your advising dean, class dean, or faculty advisor is a great resource in alleviating some of your uncertainties. If more setbacks, complications, or updates come along, your advisor can give you a heads up about more changes and important upcoming dates on the academic calendar. Feel free to email your advising dean to schedule an online meeting for further help, or just to say hi!

Run some virtual errands.

For the next seven weeks, we’ll be looking at our computer screens a lot more than usual. Make sure your computer is updated and secure, because you’ll depend on it now more than ever before. Ensure that you have access to all the files and applications needed for your courses. Basic applications, such as Zoom and Courseworks, can easily be accessed on any web browser. If you are new to Zoom, check our guide to the app. Reach out to your individual instructors about any files and applications that are needed for respective courses. You can also access applications for online classes from CUIT here and access Barnard’s online resources and tools here.

Keep track of what’s changing in your classes, and how that may affect you.

Ask yourself, how have assignments changed? What’s their new format? Have due dates changed? A lot of questions probably have been answered by your instructors on Courseworks or via email, so check both frequently. When in doubt, email a professor about your confusion or any complications. Also, visualizing changes to your classes is key, so one way you can keep track of what’s happening is to chart them.

You can also use a calendar to track your class schedule and important assignment deadlines. It can also be helpful to note your teaching assistants’ and professors’ weekly office hours.

How to trade your routine for new ones

Learning about your studying preferences will make your transition to online classes easier. If you are most productive working in groups, create a group chat with your peers, and organize Zoom sessions with your study group. If you prefer studying at your favorite library or café on campus, try to recreate some aspects of that environment, like how and where you sit. Is it better that you sit in a chair, instead of in a couch or bed? Maybe situate your study space near a window if you prefer natural sunlight, or change spots every time you change tasks.

If you function best by abiding by strict timelines, create them! You can keep track of your daily tasks and even collaborate on study schedules with friends and classmates via Google Calendar. Alternatively, if you find yourself needing more away time from the virtual world, use a planner to organize your time.

Work smarter, not harder.

If there was ever a time to put these words into practice, it’s now. Don’t commit to overly strenuous goals and tasks. One of the hardest parts of working remotely will be the many distractions surrounding you. Though government stay-at-home orders make home distractions unavoidable, there are ways you can minimize them. Here are some guidelines that will make your study sessions more convenient, more effective, and less stressful.

- Multitasking can lead to less accuracy, retention, and free time. Try to work on one task at a time in fixed time intervals. When doing a task, physically distance yourself from your phone and other screens and gadgets. That way you’ll be less tempted to recreate TikToks while watching a recorded lecture!

- Stick to your instructor’s schedule as much as possible. Staying on schedule will help you feel more grounded and on top of your assignments.

- Schedule your study sessions close to or around your instructors’ office hours. That way, any confusion or concerns you have while doing assignments for respective classes can be communicated and answered immediately.

- Watch recordings at normal speed, for better retention. Listen to them either with headphones in, or connect your audio to a speaker, so that your eyes and ears are attending to the material being recorded.

Be good to yourself!

Resting does not equate to a lack of productivity, so carve out much deserved time for it! Don’t exhaust your mind and body during this process, and always prioritize your health and safety. This is a challenging time, so finding ways to reduce levels of stress and anxiety are necessary. Columbia’s Counseling and Psychological Services and Barnard’s Rosemary Furman Counseling Center have mental health resources and services online.

Staff writer Haleigh Stewart can be contacted at Follow Spectator on Twitter @ColumbiaSpec.

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