As Hunter College nears the start of a mostly online spring semester, remote learning is no longer the uncertain, new mode of learning that it used to be. However, that doesn’t mean that students aren’t still struggling to transition, as many are likely still looking for ways to maximize the remote learning experience. In order to learn more about how to get the best out of online learning, The Envoy spoke to five Hunter professors about their experiences and tips for online learning.
‘Try to be present in that moment’
Christina Mekonen is a German professor. She teaches language courses synchronously and fairy tale courses sections asynchronously.
In order to remain organized while learning without face-to-face interaction, Mekonen advises her students to create a schedule.
“I would say to try and be organized with your time; try to make a schedule. For our class we’re completely asynchronous, so we don’t see each other. I think it’s really important to have one recurring deadline,” Mekonen said.
In terms of trying to create a sense of student community, Mekonen recommends that students find ways of getting together virtually.
“Try to connect with the students in your class! For example, connecting with your fellow students on a WhatsApp group is a really great idea.” Mekonen said.
Whereas classmates once shared their thoughts in person during class sessions, Hunter students now turn to digital apps such as WhatsApp and Discord to generate a sense of student community. Students in Meckonen’s German Fairy Tales course in the fall created a student-centered Discord where classmates could bring in homework concerns, academic tips and even fairy tale reflections.
When discussing her synchronous language courses, Mekonen emphasized the importance of having your camera on during class. She said aural and visual cues are extremely important when acquiring a language.
“If you have synchronous classes and you’re in class interacting with your instructors, try not to multitask and do other things at the same time. Try to be present in that moment,” Mekonen said. “I ask my students to turn their cameras on, because I think that helps them be in the moment and not give into other distractions.”
‘Your professor is your best resource’
Lev Sviridov is the director of the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College. Sviridov teaches an honors seminar about science and technology in the fall.
Like Mecknonen, Sviridov emphasized the importance of keeping one’s camera on during Zoom sessions. According to Sviridov, keeping your camera on is an essential part of fostering relationships with professors.
“It’s important for professional development that students find ways to keep their camera on,” Sviridov said. “If you keep your camera on the professor is more likely to remember you, and that becomes an incredibly important part of applying to fellowships, graduate school or even departmental awards.”
Professor Sissel McCarthy, the director of Hunter’s journalism program, also discussed how students can continue to develop relationships with professors digitally.
“Your professor is your best resource. Go to office hours, go through your story line by line with your professor,” McCarthy said, addressing student-journalists. “We love doing that, that’s our job. We want you to improve.”
Both Sviridov and McCarthy also had advice for what students can do outside of the Zoom world. Sviridov recommended that students take advantage of the New York Public Library’s many academic resources.
“Students should know that The New York Public Library has an incredible treasure trove of free resources that are available online,” Sviridov said. “I recommend that they make use of every single one of those resources.”
McCarthy recommended Hunter’s Rockowitz Writing Center.
“The writing center is really active, they have amazing programs such as one-on-one free tutoring. It’s for journalism students, or for anyone who’s writing.” McCarthy said.
‘Make it as normal as possible’
Katrina Moore is a classics professor teaching Roman Civilization. During the fall, Moore provided her students with recorded lectures every week and held Zoom sessions in which students brought their questions about the course material. Moore often told her students that the key to successfully managing recorded lectures is to split them up.
“Breaking it up, to me, seems like a much better idea so you’re not just sitting there for five hours trying to get all your videos for the week done at the same time,” Moore said. “You’d never sit five hours for an in-person class, you’d at least get up and walk between the classes.”
Moore also stressed the importance of making a realistic plan for yourself, even if it’s as simple as writing down your lectures for the day on a piece of paper.
“I think that it’s very much a personal thing and that you have to have a serious talk with yourself about what you can do. Trying to make a plan for yourself that’s unrealistic isn’t going to help either,” Moore said.
When asked about the disruption caused by both remote learning and the pandemic, Moore related to students’ struggles. She finds that the best way to make remote learning seem more normal is to mimic your usual habits.
“I tell people, really prepare for it, go get a cup of coffee or a redbull, whatever you’d normally take to class. Try and make it as normal as possible.” Moore said.
‘Turn everything else off!’
Jeffrey Allred is an English professor. Allred brought up the importance of avoiding digital distractions and pushing oneself to participate.
“My first suggestion is to turn everything else off!” Allred said. “The computer is a mighty distraction, for me as well as other students. Try to set yourself up for success and turn it all off preemptively.”
Allred recommends that students take asynchronous sessions just as seriously as Zoom meetings. For Allred’s async sessions, he requires that students write a thoughtful response in place of a live Zoom session. He recommends that students complete the activity during the usual class time to give themselves the space and time to generate a well-thought-out response.
“Try to block out the same time that you would have spent synchronously,” said Allred. “I think it’s tempting to say ‘oh I’m going to do something else during that time and I can do it whenever,’ and then whenever becomes never very quickly.”
Although participating on Zoom may seem as easy as raising a digital hand, some students find themselves uneasy about offering their comments online. Allred recommends that students, especially those taking reading-intensive courses, prepare comments before class so that they can be better prepared when it comes time to press the unmute button.
“I know a lot of students have a hard time participating because of the kind of artificiality of Zoom,” Allred said. “So I think it’s important to not just do the required readings, but to do the readings and prepare a couple of comments or questions to ask before class.”
As students and professors are both living in uncertain times, professors understand that achieving academic success isn’t as easy as it used to be. However, small things like buying yourself a planner, as Moore recommended, or turning off distractions during class, as Allred suggested, go a long way in making remote learning a more enriching experience. As Hunter’s modes of learning continue to change, professors agree that the most important thing for students to remember is that their mental health is the number one priority.
“My advice to students always is, be kind to yourself! If things don’t go as planned, be nice to yourself,” Moore said. “This is a totally weird situation that we’re living in, take a breath, make a new plan, and don’t get so fatalistic about it. All of this is manageable, mostly at least.”