Feeling overwhelmed with the transition to remote learning?

In my position as an instructional designer I get to work with faculty across campus to design online courses.  Often in meetings our conversations will focus on uncertainties and well-being. Teaching online or remotely can be overwhelming. Our campus is a busy place and exhaustion is too often the norm. The training sessions, websites, emails, newsletters and ideas for transitioning to remote learning can feel heavy.  Here are just a few ideas to keep in mind as you focus on you’re the Fall 2020 semester.

  1. Your well-being is most important

It will very likely be a busy term but hopefully within a few weeks you will settle in and establish the rhythm of how to do what you need and when. Your day also needs to prioritize your well-being as important. Sometimes this is easier said than done but identify what it means for you. It could be a morning walk or reading a few chapters of a book.

Walking the dog
Walking the dog. Source: Kristine Dreaver-Charles, University of Saskatchewan, 2020.

One of the things I miss most about being on campus is going to meetings at various colleges and, especially in the fall, walking through the bowl. Since we’ve been working remotely my walk is instead in my neighbourhood with my dog. It’s often too easy to get caught up in sitting in front of the computer all day without realizing how much time is gone by. Take frequent breaks getting up often from in front of your computer. Set an alarm as a reminder to stop and get up out of your chair.

If you are working on a laptop I recommend adding a second monitor, keyboard and mouse. When I work on a laptop for long periods I feel that I am hunched over it because it is usually placed on a table and I am looking down at the screen. Some of you may prefer working on a laptop because it travels well and doesn’t take up a lot of space. But you will most likely be spending a lot more hours online. If you have the means and space connecting a second screen, keyboard and mouse may provide a better workflow and be ergonomically advantageous. Be sure your screen is positioned so that you are looking at it straight ahead rather than down.

Laptop, monitor, keyboard and mouse
Laptop, monitor, keyboard and mouse. Source: Kristine Dreaver-Charles, University of Saskatchewan, 2020.

Another consideration may be obvious. What are you sitting on? If your answer is a stool, lawn chair, dining room chair or something similar you need to consider if this is meeting your needs. Take care of your back, your core and your posture.

  1. Priority planning and goal setting is essential

It can feel like you have so many things to do and nothing is actually getting done. Start making a list regularly. Cross things off as you accomplish them. I make lists so that I don’t forget what I need to get done in a day and it helps when I am really busy.  Cross items off as you complete them and you will notice that you are actually making progress.  It’s ok if you don’t finish everything.  Prioritize and shift tasks when necessary.  It can help you realize how long you actually need to complete certain tasks.

A Second Cup Flat White
A flat white. Source: http://www.hipurbangirl.com/2015/09/the-flat-white-at-second-cup.html CC BY-SA 4.0

Set some goals and celebrate your accomplishments often.  It may seem unnecessary to celebrate uploading all of your syllabi to Blackboard/Canvas and sending out welcome emails to all of your students but it’s a beginning definitely worthy of a flat white or whatever it is that brings you a bit of joy.

  1. Keep it manageable and be kind in your design

Often when I meet with faculty we will look at assessment plans for the class. It needs to be manageable for you and your students. Your assessments may need to be revised for a remote term. I’m not saying remote learning should be easier.  But it may need to be done differently than you would do in a face-to-face class. Keep your class design manageable so that you are not creating overwhelming situations for yourself and setting impossible expectations.

Being kind in your design is also an important consideration.  Locking down your class materials and assessments by making them only accessible after certain requirements have been accomplished by your students can be disengaging. Your students need to feel welcome in your remote class.  They also need to be able to plan and prioritize for themselves what needs to get done and when.  Avoid gamifying your class to a point where it feels impossible to manage for you and your students.

  1. Support each other

Academia can be sometimes difficult to navigate and building good relationships with your colleagues may feel challenging. But you need to build your remote learning support community. When you need help who can you ask in your department and college? Who can you ask on campus? Are you able to ask for help when you need it? When you learn something, who are you sharing it with? Are you able to make time in your day to help a colleague when they ask?  Sometimes it’s the smallest things that can help the most and make the biggest impact on someone’s day.

Don't be afraid to ask for help. It means you're learning.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It means you’re learning. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nvrceasetolearn/8984888769 CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I always love the start of a new academic year and this one will be especially different.  The pandemic and remote learning will have us all learning new skills, gaining perspectives and yes there will be stress.  Remember that it’s ok not to be the expert because at a time like this few of us are.