Professors offer encouragement for finals

Students may find it hard to stay motivated for finals with online school, but professors offer words of encouragement.

With online instruction, it can be hard to stay positive and motivated, but many instructors are looking out for their students and have found ways to help with the adjustment. Professors and students offer advice for those who are struggling, like fostering mental and physical health and staying in touch with instructors.

Gretchen Gee, associate chair and principal lecturer for the department of politics and international affairs, said her focus when switching to the online format was making sure her students were adjusting to the situation well.

“My early emails focused on showing them support and communicating a message of encouragement,” Gee said. “I wanted them to know that this is a big transition to make, but that we were making it together and that I would be working hard to ensure that they still learned things in an interesting and engaging way.”

Gee said she realized that students were not in their typical learning environment, which can present new obstacles to their education. Some might not have internet access or the technology needed to complete their online schooling.

Along with technological limitations, Gee said some students could be experiencing other hardships such as illness in the family or financial troubles. She accounts for these concerns and said she wants to make the transition for her students as smooth as she can.

Some professors, however, had the benefit of already teaching online classes or hybrid, which are partially online, partially in-person courses. Erin Whitesitt, a lecturer in the department of sociology, said she did not need much help switching to an online format and benefitted from a decade of experience teaching classes online.

Whitesitt said she decided to change the format of her classes by making the due dates for assignments asynchronous in order to accommodate the students' changing environments.

“I communicate at least three times per week with my classes, reminding students of ‘suggested completion dates’ for assignments, providing updates on grading or other changes from the registrar’s office and trying to include something fun or uplifting, like a microwaveable recipe or an interesting website,” Whitesitt said.

Whitesitt also takes on the perspective that her classes are still being taught the same and the learning is still the same, the only difference was they were slightly modified in response to the virus. Though, Whitesitt said her students seem to be enjoying the new system for turning in assignments and that many are already done with most of their assignments for the semester.

As for students, the change can be more difficult depending on the student's major and how they learn best. As a pre-nursing major, Sophomore Maisey Bruno had to remind herself of her end goal of why she is in school.

Bruno said not being able to attend her labs and get the hands-on experience like usual is challenging but she reminds herself to stay disciplined. Alongside self-discipline, she has found many ways to stay motivated and positive throughout her online learning.

“I think exercising has helped the most and being with my family and my dog,” Bruno said. “Also, talking to my friends from school because I miss them terribly."

Remembering to stay social even throughout distancing can help avoid burnout, and Bruno said being outdoors can have a similar effect as well.

"I go on walks, sit outside, set up my hammock and really anything that has me outside, even if that means doing homework or studying outside too," Bruno said. "I think changing up the environment in which you work can help too.”

While students try to stay positive and motivated, professors are doing the same. Gee said she keeps herself motivated by knowing the semester is going by fast and she has to continue putting assignments online. She also maintains positivity through the personal connections she makes with her students, even online. Whether it be talking to them over the phone or through email, she said it is great to hear how they are doing even if they just talk about the work for her class.

Whitesitt said she focuses on her students’ well-being and success, which is how she stays motivated throughout this time working online.

“In addition to being their instructor, I feel like I function as a source of support, consistency and information,” Whitesitt said. “Many students are stressed, frustrated or otherwise struggling with this transition. They need — and deserve — quick turnaround on questions, concerns and assignments. I want to be there for them, and I want to make it clear that I’m not going anywhere.”

Even though working online can be stressful, there can also be some positive aspects to working from home. Even though Gee does miss her classes, she said not worrying about her outfit and not waiting in line for the bathroom has been positive.

Whitesitt joked that she has been enjoying the flexibility of her outfits with working remotely because she is only appearing on video calls. She described her outfits as having a mullet style, meaning her clothes reflect business on top and party on the bottom.

To encourage making the most out of a less than ideal situation, Bruno advises other students to try new things as it can help maintain mental and physical well-being.

“I would tell other students to take advantage of this time, not only to stay inside and social distance but to try some new things that don’t require you to leave the house,” Bruno said. “Try doing some yoga, paint, go for a run, call that friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, etc.”

Bruno said keeping up with mental and physical health can also help with performance in classes with online learning.

From the perspective of a professor, the best way for students to keep up to date through online learning is to communicate with their professors and let them know what is working as well as what is not working in terms of class structure, Whitesitt said. She also explained that when students have the time and motivation to work on homework, they should do as much as possible in that time.

Gee said one of the most important ways for students to stay up to date is to read the emails professors send out. She said this is the way she, and many other instructors, convey critical information to her students.

“When students don't read [emails], or just skim them and miss critical information, it can cause big problems,” Gee said. “Also, don't tune out. Do the readings, engage with the material, participate seriously to the degree they are able. This is still a university class, even though it looks a whole lot different than it did a month ago. They can still learn a great deal, so stay engaged.”

With finals coming up, it can be a different kind of challenge to find the time and stay motivated to study for tests. Bruno said students should just try and do the best they can.

“Take breaks during studying and always remember to take care of yourself, including mental and physical health,” Bruno said. “This is a crazy, unfamiliar situation we are all dealing with and all have been affected by one way or another, so all you can do is your best, don’t procrastinate studying and remind yourself why you’re in college and what your end goal is.”

Gee said that while she is trying to make online teaching the best experience it can be, she looks forward to the day she can walk back into a classroom and greet her students again. She explained that she has heard from her fellow professors that they also miss their students and look forward to being back in the classroom. She said it is important to hang in there until then and keep looking forward.