6 Tips for Parents to Help Their Kids Survive as Virtual College Students

Last week’s post about surviving as a virtual college student offered some basic info for many students heading home to finish their semester. I (and all my colleagues at Taylor University and teachers pretty much everywhere) have been trying to comfort students and rework courses so we can deliver the desired learning outcomes in an online format.

Then I came across a post on Facebook by Lori Heinrichs Cahill. I don’t yet know the source of this material (indeed it may be her), but it’s so helpful that I want to repost much of it. If this is coming from another source, as soon as I know if there is an origin beyond Ms. Cahill, I will happily add that source here.

And, also happily, there are … wait for it … 6 tips! The advice here is really only going to be workable if (1) your student does what I’ve suggested in the previous blog about creating a schedule and being in the school mindset, and if (2) parents and their student(s) figure this out together. Start the communication now and figure this out together now. Trust me. There will be a whole lot less stress later if you lay the groundwork now and then adjust along the way over the coming weeks.

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So here you go with credit to the original author (and additional comments from me in purple):

A message from a faculty member to parents of students now doing college from home:

Many of us are navigating new terrain beginning this week, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts as we move forward.

1. Your student is not home for break, and don’t treat it as such.

Your student is still carrying a full course load and class schedule. They may have a class scheduled during your normal family dinnertime. They are not going to be able to supervise younger siblings all day. They may not be available to drop off groceries for Grandma. That’s not to say they shouldn’t help with things around the house. . . . But make sure that you are making requests when they are truly available and respect their schedule.

[Author’s note: While some teachers will be allowing students to do their own work at their own pace (hence, the need for them to create a schedule that forces them to do the credit-hours-worth of work each week), some teachers will be creating a few classes that will require students to log in at the same time for a virtual class. It is going to be vital that your student be able to do this–both in terms of schedule and in terms of capability. Many Internet services are offering help during this time of great need. Check with your provider.]

2. Realize that they are under A LOT of stress.

We are entering the most stressful time of the semester with final projects, papers, and course material that is at its peak difficulty. We are asking them to navigate new online systems that they may not have used before. On top of that they have been displaced from their normal routine, their social interactions, their campus resources, etc. Many of them (especially seniors) are grieving the loss of anticipated spring performances, sporting events, and campus activities that they have been working toward all semester/year. Some of them have lost the opportunity to say goodbye to their senior friends.

3. Make sure they have the resources they need to be successful.

To the best of your ability, make sure they have a place to work where the rest of the family knows to leave them alone. Do they have the computer/Internet connection they need to do their work? Have they retrieved all of the necessary textbooks, notes, etc. from their dorm room? If that’s not feasible, have them check with their professor about online access to the text. Many publishers are providing free Ebook access during the pandemic.

4. Remember, they are not in high school anymore.

They do not need you to remind them when they have assignments due, and you don’t need to tell them when they should start studying for the next exam or writing that paper that is due tonight. They are adults and fully capable of managing their workload.

[Author’s note: But as is mentioned above, they are indeed grieving, feeling confused, and worried. We’ve been through a lot in our lives (our grandparents remember rationing during WWII, our parents remember the draft during the Vietnam War, we remember 9/11). Our kids don’t have a way to process this since they’ve never experienced anything like this. They might need a little bit of encouragement. You know your young person. Help out as needed and be available, but don’t be a helicopter parent.]

5. Just a warning, college students have really weird working and sleep schedules.

It is not uncommon for them to schedule a meeting with team members at 9 or 10 pm, and prime study time for most is after dark. Just let them do what works for them and remind them to shut the lights off when they finally do go to sleep.

[Author’s note: They may still be working on group projects that will require them to work together on some form of group communication platform (if your broadband can handle it). This may mean some late nights. Let them do what they need to do when they need to do it.]

6. Discourage them from getting together with local college and old high school friends.

. . . Reassure them that in a few weeks, when the coronavirus cases start to decline, they will be able to go out and do things with friends. For now, stay home as much as possible. And (I never thought I’d say this) encourage social interaction through the phone that’s always attached to their hands for the immediate future.

Most of all, enjoy having your kids back under your roof for a while.

Stay healthy!

P.S. Remind them to be kind to their professors. Most of us have had a week or less to completely revise our classes, assignments, and assessments to an online platform. We are using technology that we have never used or never used in this way. Many of us also have children home from college, school, or daycare — or elderly parents that we are concerned about. We will do our absolute best to provide your students with the quality education they deserve, but we will make some mistakes and some things we try are going to fall flat. Be patient, we’ll get through it together.

[Author’s note: Amen and amen.]

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I’d love to hear from you. What are you doing to help make this transition work for your college student?

6 Tips for Surviving as a Virtual College Student

With the current closing and moving to online classes of many schools and universities (including mine), I’ve realized the challenge that many of my students will be facing and want to offer some pieces of advice.

(1) Remember that you’re still “in school”

As you head away from campus — whether you’re going home or elsewhere or staying on campus due to other travel restrictions — your mind will shift into “break” mode. It will take some mental gymnastics to force yourself to realize that isn’t the case. Just because you’re changing your venue doesn’t mean you’re not in school anymore.

It’s a location shift, not a vocation shift.

And since for our school, spring break begins early, and then we’re back to virtual school, then a couple days off for Easter break, and then potentially still online (if things don’t change in the next two weeks), everyone will need to mentally shift at least twice.

Tell yourself that as soon as the next “in school” date rolls around: I am not on break! Then tell yourself again after the next break when school is again on your own. I am not on break!

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(2) Make sure you pack everything you need

At my school, the students are packing up to leave on Tuesday; I realize many of you at other schools are already gone from your campus. If you’re still in packing mode, remember that this time, you need to take all class materials. Spend a few moments at your desk thinking about what you normally carry to class each day and the materials you’ve been collecting all semester —

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  • textbook(s)
  • notebook
  • folder with handouts
  • study cards
  • syllabus
  • other resources

Do this for each class and pack these up to take with you.

(3) Create a schedule

It’s not going to be easy to maintain a study schedule when you don’t have to arrive at classes at certain times. Depending on how your prof sets up the online learning class, you may be on your own. If you’re required to log in at certain times, set your phone alarm to remind you. In any case, for all your classes, create a schedule and stick to it.

  • For your 3-credit classes, you’re in class for 3 hours a week and you have homework for at least that many hours.
  • Create a weekly schedule — if it helps, plan to work during the same time that you would be in class anyway. For your 9:00 class, set aside Monday-Wednesday-Friday at 9:00 and sit down to work on your class assignments.
  • If that doesn’t work or if you need to work around your family’s schedule to find quiet study time, do so, but find those needed hours somewhere.
  • Remember that you usually sat in class at that time and then did homework, so set aside another couple of hours during your week (at least) to work on those class assignments.
  • Give your family that schedule so they’ll understand your need to not be interrupted (see point #4).

(4) Find a quiet spot to work & limit distractions

Again, this is the concept of not being in “break” mode. Make your family aware that siblings can’t be interrupting nonstop; you’re trying to simulate school because you need to keep up with homework. (You may run into the same problem with interruptions at school, so whatever you do there should work at home.)

Wherever your work spot is (and it may well be the kitchen table!), you’ll need to be especially focused. Younger siblings may be home as well with their own school closings. You’re going to be tempted to do what you normally do on break, so it’s going to take focus and discipline to keep up with your classes (see points #1 and #2).

(5) Work ahead & beyond

Realize how many hours you spend on campus going to and from class, goofing off in the dorms, spending time at meals. All of that time is now yours. Don’t waste it. Now is the time to make headway on that end-of-the-year project, do some extra reading or practicing, or get a handle on that one concept that you’ve been struggling with all semester.

Use the online resources your university library offers. If you’ve not been in the habit of online research (beyond Google), now is the time to experience what your school library has to offer through their online portal.

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(6) Keep calm

Don’t let this semester get away from you or fall apart because you’re not planning well during this enforced online learning time. This is all part of the adulting you’ll soon be doing. Life often throws curve balls, and you’ll need to adjust and keep moving.

Stay calm. Be organized. Take advantage of the opportunities these coming weeks may offer in terms of revised schedules, time with family, or extra time to do the things you already love.

See you sometime soon! (I hope!)

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