How to Use Online Learning to Connect and Conquer COVID Slide

A recent college grad shares tips and tools to avoid social and academic isolation during distance learning

How to Use Online Learning to Connect and Conquer COVID Slide

Graduating college via Zoom was weird. The act and the idea of graduating was great—I completed a bachelor’s degree in computer science and another in philosophy—but I actually logged out of the ceremony before it ended. They had already mailed me my diploma.

Though everyone talked about how 2020 high school and college seniors were ripped off, 2021 seniors could have it much worse. My class at least had our fall semester—they’re not going to have anything. I’m an extrovert, so I’ve found many ways to stay connected with friends while following the advised safety protocols. Here are three ways I’ve learned to stay connected during distance learning.

Socializing During Online learning

Learning online can be tedious—I think we’ve all figured that out by now—but it has undoubtedly already changed the classroom culture. The chat function in whatever virtual meetup platform you’re using is a natural way of communicating for today’s students. Not that you’d have full-blown side conversations during class, but I’ve seen current seniors make light of the virtual situation by engaging with each other via chat during teacher lectures. Without interrupting, they can ask each other questions to gain clarification or comment on certain points. For educators, active chat keeps students engaged on one screen rather than moving onto another. For students, this maintains a semblance of the social aspect they’d otherwise get sitting in their chairs in a physical classroom.

It's already an uncomfortable position to be in: Students have to stare at a screen (eye strain), navigate awkward Zoom conversations where everyone is interrupting each other and rolling down the "no you go, no you go" hill, and have their peers' faces plastered up on the screen knowing full well their own face is plastered on a bunch of other screens. As a student, I'd much rather have a 40-minute class of consolidated information and possible practice problems or discussion questions rather than an hour-long class with some complicated learning game where at least one student won't take it seriously, have connection issues, and any other related complications.

Being on camera helps, however. It can be easy to fall into the habit of not turning on your webcam, but I promise it’ll make you feel more connected. It also holds you more accountable to sitting at your desk, staying engaged, and not getting distracted by making your bed or folding your laundry.

Joining an Online Community

Most people my age are probably part of at least five online communities. From TikTok to Twitter and Discord, we all fill our social buckets to some level in a virtual environment. When it comes to academics, though, maybe not so much. I was surprised when I started going down the more education-focused rabbit hole on YouTube and found an abundance of interesting content. Joining a more academic-focused online community was a game-changer for my virtual college experience.

I had actually started tutoring via an online tutoring platform called TutorMe years before the pandemic, but from a social aspect, all tutors, including myself, are benefiting and even relying on it far more in the last year than they ever have. I connect with students online on most days of the week. They are strangers who need my help, and it’s so fulfilling to be able to help them have a better school experience during this time.

One of the more regular students I tutor says that he missed having intellectual stimulation. He’s realized that he can soak concepts up like a sponge if he can talk about coding and other class concepts versus watching a video or reading a book. He’s a college guy, and I just graduated college, so we just meshed well and were able to have free-flowing conversation. Tutoring online has given myself and several of my students an academic platform with a social element. I also think that some of my students have been deprived of an in-class cheerleader. I’ve kind of taken that role on as their tutor—someone who’s rooting for them.

Actively Learning from a Distance

Throughout the pandemic, many schools have taken to online platforms as a way of delivering lectures and assigning projects. With the transition most schools have made into online courses, the initial conceptual understanding of a subject is often glossed over. Professors might just say, “Here's a topic. Learn it." This approach leaves many students struggling to pull a topic out of their readings or lecture and transfer them into actively learning and doing. As a tutor, I have been able to hold weekly lessons with a group of students I’ve grown close with to help them understand the data structures visually through a virtual whiteboard, allowing them to understand the operations and algorithms they are trying to code out. The consistency of these sessions also helps to minimize students’ stress when everything else in their life is up in the air. I have noticed that their confidence in their ability to learn and grow has increased, and it’s especially rewarding during these difficult times.

Online tools like these allow for truly comprehensive lessons where students can complete entire projects, starting from not understanding a structure to having a complete code base implementation, for example. The students I have been assisting on a continual basis are going through all the struggles I experienced as a student—and even more so with the dependence on online learning. It is a true joy to be able to deliver the closest thing to a classroom experience possible.

Caleb Atkins graduated from The College of William & Mary in 2020 and tutors students online with TutorMe. He has recently started as a cybersecurity engineer at Booz Allen Hamilton.


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