In the midst of the pandemic, first responders are struggling to keep our fellow Americans healthy; service workers have lost wages and tips; many of us are or will face the loss of a loved one; and many of us are trying to figure out how to keep the fridge stocked and a roof over our heads. Those are all incredibly difficult and life altering problems.
And so is the real issue of dealing with an education system that has moved online. For many students in the US, this will be the first experience with online learning or #zoomuniversity. As a former community college student (and many times failed online school student – side eyeing you Kaplan), I’ve juggled raising a family as a single mom, working 50+ hours at a high stress job, and taking a combination of in-person and online coursework. So I like to think I know a thing or two about the matter.
Making a plan that works for you – and how to interact with that plan to set yourself up for success
There’s several apps and tech out there but I like to keep it fairly simple. I make use of Google Calendar, iOS notes app, and sticky notes. My tips below:
- Google calendar
- Keeping up with the Lecture Schedule + Study Groups
- HW, Quiz, Exam release dates + deadlines
- The art of note-taking and asking questions
- iOS notes app
- Daily checklists
- Check in with yourself
- sticky notes on my display screen
Google Calendar: What to Add and Why
This is a tricky balancing act. Add too many items to your calendar and you will have an anxiety attack just looking at all the deadlines. Don’t add enough and you risk missing an important deadline or lookahead for exam studying.
Personally I add lecture times or the time when the pre-recorded lecture will be up. Either way for the time window I include the length of the lecture plus an additional 15-30 minutes (depending on class content) for pausing and rewinding. This allows me to see the pockets of time that I have to dedicate for each class and I can “reschedule” it to another day or time when I know I can focus on content digestion.
Keeping up with lecture: The merry-go-round that never stops
Ay. We’ve all been there: class is recorded, we have overlapping classes, and we PROMISE ourselves that will catch up on the weekend – always on that mythically eternal long weekend that somehow always flashes before our eyes in a second with no progress on lecture. Before you know it, it’s two days before an exam and you’re are binging on lecture videos trying to LEARN new content instead of reviewing something that was taught weeks ago. Don’t fall victim to this vicious cycle – it never ends well.
Lecture Accountability: Form Study groups
What has worked best for me is setting up study groups pronto! More than one – including with people you don’t know. I use groupMe, group texts, Slack to communicate with different study groups. I then schedule days when we will go over HW problems (which rely on lecture) so that I HAVE to be ready. There’s nothing like the pressure to stay up to date because you want to help your friend out with their questions – it should always be a give and take dynamic.
The Art of Note-taking: How to Absorb content while viewing a video + Post on Piazza with my name (Not Anonymously)
I download the lecture slides (if available – all online classes should be required to have slides) onto my iPad. Before I saved for my iPad, I used to print out the slides (I am so, so, so sorry mother earth) and write notes on the pages.
With my iPad I can now follow along with the video and pause the video when I have question or am unclear on what was said. I note the time of the video and write what my question is. I continue with the lecture if this doesn’t stumble me up for the remaining content and see if my question is answered. If not then I post on piazza or whatever student Q&A platform the class uses and note what I am referring to (both content summary and timestamp of video) and state how I understand it (so prof has an opportunity to explain it further or differently if I misunderstood) and ask my question.
I publish questions with my name – not anonymously. Why? Because fellow students are more likely to answer a question if there is a name attached – that’s just human nature, and because someone I know or knows of me will be even more inclined to give an in-depth question. I had a CS class in which I made it my mission to give in-depth answers to all questions but especially to those posed by Latinx / Black students. Sue me.
Find the ways in which note-taking works best for you but know now that an online class will require more effort to master the content.
HW, Quiz, and Exam Dates
I add when a HW/Quiz/Exam is out and when it is due. That way I can see if I have multiple classes with the same deadline. I then reach out to my counselor, Office of Accessible Education coordinator, and professors – in that order so that I can see what accommodations are available to me, ask for those accommodations and get appropriate documentation if needed, and then email the professor and lead TA with a blurb on my specific situation, a specific ask, and attach the documentation.
If you’re floundering from day 0 because you have a lot on your plate (caring for children, parents, siblings, working, etc.) please follow the above. There is no reason that we should suffer alone and quietly. Squeaky wheel gets the oil is something you need to embrace as needed.
iOS notes app: checklists are my jam, journaling, inspiration
I use my notes app for pretty much everything. During a quarter I aim to post every day with a list of TODO items using the checklist feature.
Below is an example of recent posts. As you can see I forgot the tomatoes and I need to charge my phone 🙂
- I have been eating a lot of cheeze-its. We’re in a pandemic – don’t judge me!
What the Checklist is for – and what it Shouldn’t do
More importantly, you will notice that I don’t get through everything on my list in one day. Completion of tasks within the day is NOT the point. The point is to keep an inventory of TODOs, prioritize accordingly, and carryover anything that wasn’t done to the next day. No judgement. This is meant to help you – not make you feel worse.
You will also note that I include the mundane (grocery shopping), along with school work. I have one day where everything I did centered on cleaning and errands. Celebrate everything you accomplish because it is exactly that, an accomplishment. There will be days when you are too tired *raises hand*, too depressed *raises hand*, too busy with caring for loved ones *raises hand*, too whatever to do the schoolwork that has to get done. Be prepared for that. It doesn’t make you a failure, it makes you human – especially since at minimum you are dealing with stress induced by the pandemic and all the changes and uncertainty that it brings.
Journaling – I was terrible at it until…
You guessed it, I used my notes app. I’ve tried to buy pretty stationary, notebooks, blogs *yes this blog – stop judging me!* to establish a daily-ish journaling practice and it just never took. A few months ago I started some intense trauma therapy and to stay anchored and document my progress and state of mind I started jotting down notes under each day. Things like, how I felt when I woke up (e.g. feeling groggy, good / bad sleep, # hrs of sleep), how I felt that day (e.g. a good day, in a funk, a really bad can’t get out of bed day). I included workouts I did – never what I didn’t do. What I cooked that day, a memory I made that day w/ friends or fam, etc.
These check-ins lead to the practice of self-awareness and introspection – one of the most powerful skills you can hope to develop. It also allows you to look back and question false statements such as “I was so lazy this week.” Were you lazy? Or were you just dealing with extra shit that week? This has helped me identify what triggers my anxiety and depression – also a very powerful and life-altering skill.
There are no rules – jot down what you want!
If you ever need an idea for a startup, social justice issue you should care about, or a poem – I got you. I write these down too. But I keep these in separate notes. I love being able to reference these to undo “writers block”, get a brainstorm for CS group research projects going, etc.
Sticky Notes! Printouts! —> Physical Inspiration Board
Before being a full time student at Stanford, I was the Global Business Development Lead for the Technology Transactions & IP Group, Data Privacy Group, and the Life Sciences Industry Group at a top three law firm. Yeah it’s a mouthful and it was a lot. To keep me from losing my mind from all the deadlines, being the only Latina in the entire department, working in all white spaces in a corporate setting, reporting to some very childish and a-holy personalities (though also some incredibly supportive and amazing partners who I owe a lot to and learned a lot from), and to keep pushing myself to achieve more I kept an inspiration board. Well that’s a stretch.
What I did was print out articles of bad ass mujeres achieving despite their circumstances and graphs and visuals on tech trends; maintained a white board with my upcoming high level strategic goals, handwritten messages from colleagues, silly drawings, and sticky notes all over my screen with sayings like – “Remember Who You Are”, “You’ve Been Through So Much Worse”, “Look at You Miss Chingona – Get it!” and the such. I loved that board. It kept me rooted in who I was, where I came from, and most importantly where I knew I was going. It reminded me that even though I ‘just had a HS diploma’ that I was keeping up and outrunning colleagues who had advanced degrees from Ivy Leagues.
These days, I remind myself how far I’ve come since taking my first introductory CS class. How far I’ve come since the shitty childhood I had in Boyle Heights / East Los, the trauma, the abusive relationships, being a single mom at 23 to two toddlers in LA without help from anyone, all the shit I had to crawl through to get to where I am. I told you I was a chingona. 😉
Osea – Be your own cheerleader
So use these sticky notes to be your own cheerleader. Because no one, absolutely no one should be a bigger cheerleader for you than you are for yourself. Because there will most likely be moments (and at times repeated long periods) when you fail, when you feel that you have fallen into a hole so deep and dark that no one sees you anymore and from which you don’t see a way out. In those moments, that’s when you can tap into that inner cheerleader and urge yourself to take it a day at a time, un poquito a la vez, because this is what your new measure of success may be – Am I a little further (no matter how much) than I was yesterday? Sometimes you will feel like you walked back, other days like you didn’t move at all, but there will be days that you advance. Un Dia a La Vez.
TLDR / In Conclusion
Be prepared. Make a plan. Continuously check in and update that plan. Find what works for you and adapt accordingly. Check in with yourself – not just academically. Be kind to yourself. Know that You will get there and You will be cheerleading yourself on the whole way.
Like I love to say, we have to Take Life By the Horns and Make it Your B!tch! 🙂