I’ve always loved the first day of school. I love the sweet September air, the new school supplies and the reunions. I’m starting my fourth year of my undergrad, and an untouched notebook still brings me just as much joy as it did in first grade. I guess it’s what it represents: my love for lifelong learning and fresh starts.
The world is a really weird place right now. Sometimes normalcy slips in and I forget about everything for a bit. The Zoom calls, the masks, and the 2 meters. But now that I’m back at school and I’m adjusting to online classes, the new reality is sinking in. My heart breaks for the first years starting their University career like this, but I wanted to share some things I’ve learned about navigating online school.
The Benefits – Yes, there are some!
1. You're finally working on your own schedule - depending on how your classes are set. Say hello to a little freedom! You get to decide when and how you're going to get your work done. I personally work best at night, so I will definitely be taking advantage of some sleep ins.
2. You have more flexibility to work at your own pace. You can pause the lecture recording if you need to, and re-watch until you really understand. Typically, with online class your profs will set the same deadlines each week - so you can stay organized and really focus on learning the information.
Tips for Tackling Online Class
Schedule it in. And I mean everything. Read your syllabus inside and out for each class and put every important date into your calendar. Assignments, quizzes, exams – everything. I use the one on my laptop so I can see the upcoming weeks, but writing it in a physical agenda works really well for a lot of people too! Something I’ve found super useful is scheduling blocks of time into four categories: focus (when you’re grinding), admin (answering emails, any extracurricular duties etc.), social (you need time to connect – even if it’s virtual), and recovery (taking time for YOU). If your classes are asynchronous I’d recommend setting a time to work on certain classes, so you don’t fall behind! I even schedule in showers and meals just so I make sure I get everything done. Before each week, I make a weekly plan and highlight important tasks I need to accomplish each day. Staying organized will save you a lot of headaches, I promise.
Create a study space. I’m a huge library enthusiast, and have a really hard time staying home so this has been hard for me. I always make sure my room is clean, well-lit with natural light, and put on a diffuser so it smells nice (also some really good relaxing/focus scents). Even if it means going to a coffee shop or a public library, find your space and mix it up to stay motivated!
Take care of yourself. Your own physical and mental health are a priority. Go to therapy. Drink lots of water - always more than you think! If you're shopping for yourself, fill your cart with lots of fruits and veg. Your body will thank you. When I'm feeling anxious or generally unmotivated and uninspired, exercising always helps! Even if it's just a quick walk to get out of the house, your serotonin levels will undoubtedly increase. I know you've heard it before, but make sure you get enough sleep. Memory retention is directly correlated with the amount of sleep you get. If you have an off day, don't push it. You're allowed to take time for yourself. Take the day off to disconnect from extraneous stressors and focus on what YOU need. Putting your own needs first is not selfish.
Focus on the learning. Take your classes just as seriously as you would if they were in person. If you dive into subjects with a thirst for knowledge rather than memorization, you'll enjoy it more. Watch a documentary, read a book (not JUST textbooks), listen to a podcast or a TedTalk - there is so much to learn! Education is such a powerful tool, and if you're fortunate enough to have access - don't take it for granted.
There are people here to help you. Everyone is in the same boat. We’re all going to be a little lost, and a lot confused sometimes. It is okay to ask for help. Never stop asking for help. Go to virtual office hours, make a study group, and get a tutor if you need to! There are so many incredible resources at your disposal – I use Pearson eTexts, which have saved me money and so much time. You can use direct highlight tools, have topics explained with illustrations and videos, and easily navigate the textbook. Always utilize and take advantage of the resources around you, there's always someone or something that can help.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous for this year. It's unchartered territory for all of us, but we are all in it together. Even though my back to school outfit is a sweat suit, and the reunions will be taking place in front of a screen, I'm still excited. Excited to immerse myself in new classes. Challenge myself. Be inspired. I'm still going to get outside to enjoy the warm September breeze. I'll always love the first day of school - even if it's on Zoom. It doesn't really matter where you are in the world, learning can always take place.
Ioana Pitu, Queen’s University student and founder of Mistral Spirit, shares the 5 best study tools that has kept her organized and helped her succeed in school and her career.
By Ioana Pitu, Queen’s University student and founder of Mistral Spirit
As a student blogger and content creator, I’ve built my entire personal brand and online presence around being organized. My YouTube channel, Mistral Spirit, aims to help other students and lifelong learners work towards a motivated, balanced and goal-driven lifestyle through organized bullet journal inspiration, productivity strategies, and creative journaling.
20-year old Queen’s University student, Hailey Rodgers, is going full steam ahead on her mission to advocate for mental health and share the values of authentic living with today’s youth.
By Fiona Lam
How do I become happy?
This is a question Hailey Rodgers sought to answer in her book, See Me, a collection of intimate stories and insights from her personal experience on the importance of being fearlessly authentic and why it is crucial to living a happy, successful life as a young adult.
Published at only 19, the third-year Queen’s University commerce student has dedicated much of her university career to mental health advocacy. Her love for business began since Grade 2 when she would sell items to her friends during recess, donating all proceeds to the humane society. “I really liked this idea of creating something impactful that benefits someone else,” Hailey reflected.
“I really liked this idea of creating something impactful that benefits someone else.”
Currently, Hailey is making an impact on campus as the co-president of Step Above Stigma, a non-profit organization that aims to increase mental health accessibility and end the stigma. Hailey works with the team to share resources on campus and host fundraisers, like sock sales and Smashing the Stigma: Car Smash, for mental health organizations. This advocacy work has encouraged Hailey to be transparent about her own mental health struggles. The more she shared, the more liberated and authentic she felt.
For educators, one of the most common challenges with remote teaching is creating impactful active learning experiences online. When students are actively learning, they are making connections to their own lives, questioning, and collaborating, which leads to more significant, durable learning outcomes.
With the right strategies and tools, you can create a dynamic and engaging classroom that uses active learning to boost understanding.
You've gotten a lot of study tips from teachers, your parents, your friends. But what advice actually works? Find out what science-based study hacks is best suited for you based on your current study habits and preferences.
In the wake of COVID-19, educators across Canada have had to move their courses online. There are a plethora of digital tools available to teachers for online teaching, but sorting out what tools are best for what strategies and activities can be overwhelming.
To alleviate this confusion, we want to share with you one tool that can help you incorporate many of the recommended best practices into your virtual course. It will help simplify the process of picking the best tools and putting them to use effectively.
Rose Caruso, Professor, Seneca College, Toronto, Canada, interviewed by Caroline Miller, Managing Editor, Pearson
Student engagement is a problem most professors seem to grapple with. No matter what the discipline, often students are distracted, disinterested, or downright disengaged. In her developmental English courses at Seneca College in Ontario, Canada, Rose Caruso faced apathetic and reluctant students semester after semester. In this interview, Caruso shares her insights for motivating students, interested in improving their skills, and how she used an online learning program to benefit students. She provides great insights in the interview, and you can find more details and results in her educator study.
Q: How did you get involved teaching developmental English?
Caruso: My career at Seneca began in Continuing Education in 2008 where I taught many students whose first language was not English. I found a knack for guiding ESL students in the acquisition of knowledge and language skills that would prepare them for full-time college programs. Students would often contact or meet with me to report back how much they learned from my teaching.
I took pride in the success of these students and wanted to continue making an impact on students and nurturing the value of lifelong learning in a full-time capacity. It was my students in Continuing Education who cemented my direction to teach in the developmental English program and my love of learning and teaching that motivated me to teach at Seneca in 2005 for the School of English and Liberal Studies. I have since secured a full-time faculty position in 2013 and feel so fortunate to be living my dream.
Q: Why do you think students are reluctant to engage in developmental English? Is it the same type of disengagement professors see in other courses?
Caruso: Students often enter developmental English apathetic and reluctant to engage in the course content since it is a non-credit course for which they need to pay. The course meets for four hours a week and focuses on writing paragraphs and essays. Having students that are disengaged and unmotivated is a concern since it negatively affects teaching and learning.
Students in this course are often:
late or have high absenteeism, attrition
don’t participate in class or complete their assignments
have low self-esteem or confidence to be critical thinkers
have learning disabilities and/or accommodations for learning disabilities
feel resentment and frustration since they passed grade 12 English and/or received a high grade
unprepared to learn since they do not have the skill sets to be successful
bottom line—they just don’t want to be in the course since they feel it is “remedial” and that translates to being “not smart” enough to be in college English.
Q: Why do you think your students like the online learning resource, MyWritingLab?
Students have reported saying how much they enjoyed playing an active role in their learning and receiving frequent personalized feedback. Before starting the online grammar program, students must complete a diagnostic assessment and individual Skills Checks in MyWritingLab. Students critically analyzed and actively became involved with their writing assignments with Pearson Tutor Services and Pearson Writer’s Automatic Writer Review feature.
Students also liked the fact that the learning was personalized to create a Learning Path, or study plan, according to the results from the built-in assessment tools.
Students love technology—they are visual and tactile learners. Students get excited knowing that learning is not traditional and passive, but rather creative and hands-on.
They enjoy the face-to-face interaction with faculty when they don’t understand the concept. I use the lab to provide one-on-one consultation to help students with difficult grammar and writing concepts. Students feel as though someone cares about them, and they don’t have to wait for an email or meeting with a professor to answer a question they don’t know. Immediate feedback is key to motivating students. They feel important and that someone is giving them the attention they need.
Students remain engaged and challenged both in and out of the classroom by the creative and dynamic learning environment that MyWritingLab offers. They are never bored or uninterested in grammar. They look forward to each class to find out what they can learn.
Q: What insights can you share to help other educators engage with students?
Understand your student audience, and don’t assume that ALL students in a course are familiar with grammar or concepts of writing. Take time to ask your students what they know, what they don’t know, and what they would like to know or expect from the course. As educators we should be more open to what our students want to learn and how to learn with a variety of tools instead of slide presentations and lectures. As educators we become the best at our craft by learning from our students.
Make learning fun. Students love technology, so why not use technology to enhance learning? Students are active learners rather than passive learners. They want immediate feedback and want to know the answers NOW.
Provide student flexibility and the option to rewrite or re-submit online work. Redundancy and repetitiveness helps students master the concept. Students also feel that they are treated fair and you. Today’s students are driven achievers who depend on technology. At the same time, I find that they lack the learning skills to succeed in and out of the classroom—particularly their critical thinking and decision making skills. This new evolution of society, media, technology, and communication has been my catalyst to provide a more productive learning environment that is student-centered, collaborative, and self-directed.
In the classroom or lab, interact with students, and be involved in the learning process. Students become more confident and active learners when you do this.
It’s important to look for additional ways to grow as an instructor and to prevent teaching from getting stale. Fine-tune and update course materials with current, innovative teaching techniques, and present students the most up-to-date instructional materials or tech tools.
Q: How has the online learning resource changed how you teach?
Caruso: In my 20 years of teaching, I have learned that each generation comes to college with varying characteristics and that some of the teaching methods of just ten years ago, no longer work as well with this generation of digital learners.
I have found the best teaching style that works with digital learners is one of balance where I become a facilitator of learning within the didactic model.
The greatest teaching reward is transforming non-believers of MyWritingLab into believers. In the first week of classes when I introduce the online product, students often give me attitude since they have to spend more money on course materials that they probably have already dismissed or deemed useless. Using MyWritingLab has made me successful in the classroom since students believe and are convinced with the efficacy of the product. The pre- and post-assessments (Path Builder and Mastery Check) and Skills Checks are vital to the program since personalized Path Builder scores keep students motivated, as well as the immediate feedback they receive once exercises are submitted.
Q: What are some of the biggest changes you have seen in your students who use MyWritingLab?
Caruso: Students are more confident writers. They now understand the English jargon that prompts them to revise and edit their work. For example, if an instructor marks up a student paper and writes “comma splice”—without prior knowledge of the definition and strategies to correct it, students will not be able to make appropriate edits). MyWritingLab provides students with an animation, grammar and writing chapters to read, and online practice exercises to learn the concept. MyWritingLab gives students the tools and strategies they need to identify grammar and writing errors in order to revise and edit their own work.
Students become more critical learners as they reflect, revise, and edit their own writing.
They now enjoy learning about grammar. MyWritingLab makes learning fun since it’s interactive and topics are current.
By the end of the course, students are proud of their achievements and success in the course. I have students with teary eyes telling me that no one has ever taught English the way they I did in my course; and how the skills, knowledge, and confidence gained allows them to be successful in other courses that require good writing skills. I have received so many emails after students complete the college English course (EAC150) telling me with so much pride that they passed the course with honors As and Bs because of what they learned in my class. I take such pride knowing this and share the emails with new students in the first week of class when I introduce MyWritingLab. Their eyes light up when I show them the success they will have by the end of the semester, and they look forward to each class. I hardly have any absenteeism since students are motivated to be successful.
Although it’s difficult to find out the success rate for each student in my developmental course, I am reminded by the overwhelming number of emails after students pass the college English EAC150 course with high honors. This is testament of how MyWritingLab and Pearson Writer has helped my students become more confident writers and prepared for the real world.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Caruso: Education is and always has been a very important aspect of my life. Education is about teaching students, not subjects. It’s about engaging students in their learning and providing them with opportunities to be challenged and yet giving them a toolbox to be successful.
I like to share a quote that is attributed to Confucius and how I model my teaching in class:
“Tell me and I’ll forget,
Show me, and I may not remember.
Involve me, and I’ll understand.”
This is a useful way to remember the importance of adopting active learning and student-centered pedagogies where students gain experience and achieve all that they can. Students create a social network by working together, and they learn to better work together and accept diverse views. By working together, students become more open and tolerant of different views or opinions of others.
I understand that my students today are pluralistic and bring multiple perspectives to the classroom such as diverse backgrounds, learning styles, experiences, and aspirations. Each time I teach a course, it is essentially a new ballgame. Each semester I modify my lessons to accommodate the diversity of my students’ needs and use Pearson online tools to supplement my teaching.
The content changes over time, our students change, and our teaching must change. Therefore, I believe that teaching is at its best only when it is vital and ever changing. I continually strive to improve the effectiveness of my teaching by rethinking and revising my methods for the benefit of students in all areas, from diversity to technology. I have taken every teaching opportunity as a way of developing and experimenting with new methods of teaching and rectifying my approaches through student feedback. This way, I continue to learn and to grow: by taking risks and questioning my assumptions when I apply technology, new ideas, or methods.
Adhering to this teaching style has been incredibly rewarding!