As NC State begins its spring semester with online, hybrid and in-person class options, students are bracing to face yet another semester full of the challenges that come with distance education. Professors within the College of Education have provided tips and specialized advice to help students be successful in an online environment.
Maintaining a Routine
John Lee, the associate dean for faculty and academic affairs in the College of Education, says students should maintain a consistent schedule, even though they may have more liberty with their time now.
“It’s really important, I think, to develop routines,” Lee said. “The routines that we’re used to were taken away from us. If you have an asynchronous class, you need to build yourself a schedule and hold yourself accountable to the schedule. It’s very hard to do that, and I know that, but the closer we can get to those kinds of routines, the better.”
Both Lee and John Nietfeld, a professor in the College of Education, emphasize the importance of clearing your workspace of distractions while studying or doing schoolwork.
“In this environment, there’s so many distractions around us because of the ways in which we have access to information,” Lee said. “Those distractions pay a toll on us, and our capacity to pay attention to the thing that we want to attend to. When you’re in an online class, there is a considerable danger of that happening.”
Nietfeld said the ability to focus and keep your attention directed on what you are doing is a key indicator of how successful you will be in your online classes.
“What I would say to students is: When you’re in class or when you’re trying to do something related to an online class, clear your workspace,” Nietfeld said. “Get rid of the phone. When there’s people around, try to get to a quiet space that they’re not interrupting you. No TV. You need to really focus because multitasking does not work. Contrary to popular belief, people are not successful when they multitask.”
M. Jayne Fleener, a professor within the College of Education, believes an effective way to combat feeling unmotivated is to connect your coursework with your passions.
“Don’t lose sight of what really interests you,” Fleener said. “If you can articulate those passions and that vision for the future that you have in a way that can help shape your coursework, it can not only make your coursework more meaningful, but it can also be more cumulative, so that every course builds towards that vision.”
DeLeon Gray, an associate professor within the College of Education, says students can successfully engage with online courses by finding a way to stand out in the sea of faces on Zoom.
“Ask yourself, ‘How can I harness the potential of this activity to express my uniqueness — to really share my contributions and valuable insights and become a valued member of this intellectual community?’” Gray said.
Collaborating With Fellow Students
Lee emphasizes the importance of collaboration among students, especially during this period of distance learning.
“We know from learning science that we learn better when we collaborate,” Lee said. “Learning is a social endeavor, and it’s the rare student who thrives best in isolation.”
Though she understands it is harder to make connections in online classes, Fleener encourages students to reach out to their peers and lean on each other.
Taking Care of Your Mental and Physical Health
Angela Smith, a teaching associate professor with a background in counseling and mental health, urges students to find time to unwind and relax.
“I really encourage students to think about the things that they have control over that they can incorporate into their day to allow for things that bring them joy,” Smith said.
Fleener advocates for students to engage in a practice from Buddhist psychology called “seeing with soft eyes” which discourages people from being hyper-focused on one task to the point where they are blind to other important things.
Smith discourages students from socially isolating themselves when they feel stressed out because it can be detrimental to their mental health.
“There are a lot of things that are on the rise, such as anxiety and depression,” Smith said. “Some of these things we’re seeing in mental health could really be a direct connection to behavior such as isolating. I really caution against that — doing it all on your own and not feeling like you have any support around you to reach out to. Even though we’re physically distanced, we don’t have to be socially disconnected.”
Another important part of mental and physical health is exercise, and Nietfeld urges students to take time away from their screens to go do it.
“All the research shows you’re going to think better, you’re going to sleep better, you’re going to be able to focus better,” Nietfeld said. “Even if it’s 15 minutes at a time, get up, be moving. It will help your ability to perform well, and you’ll be healthy.”
Building Relationships With Professors
By and large, one of the most agreed upon tips the professors have for students is to make connections with their professors.
Peter Hessling, a teaching assistant professor in the College of Education, reassures students that their professors are going to be understanding and reasonable when their students reach out to them in need of help.
“If an emergency arises, you need to communicate with the professor,” Hessling said. “Most of us understand that things happen, especially under these circumstances. We’re going to be flexible and we’ve been encouraged to be flexible by the university.”
Lee says that the reason that the faculty are employed is to provide assistance to students in need.
“Other than working hard on your assignments, I can’t think of anything else that a student should do regularly more than reaching out to professors when you need their help,” Lee said. “Do that without reservation and have the confidence of knowing that’s why we’re here.”
Gray wants to remind students that professors at the University are highly renowned and knowledgeable, and encourages students not to let online classes take away vital parts of their college experience.
“NC State has some premier professors who are world-renowned,” Gray said. “These people have studied extensively on a number of topics and are leading researchers and thought leaders. If you look at their billable hourly rate for consulting — it’s crazy. They’re worth a lot. So the fact that it is already baked into your experience, baked into your tuition, you’re not getting your money’s worth if you don’t take the opportunity to connect with professors.”
Students are reminded by the professors within the College of Education that there are many resources available to them, such as the distance education virtual orientation, the Counseling Center, the Academic Success Center, their advisers and, of course, their professors.