As the online semester comes to an end, finding ways to push through the final weeks can feel exhausting. Students have noted that their attention spans in class are challenged by the temptation of scanning through different browser tabs, watching videos or even falling asleep. However, the Student Success Center (SSC) is continuing to help students as their services become more pertinet.
Back when classes were in-person, first-year Kaylee Snell and third-year Grant Brewer agreed that their in class participation was more productive than it is now. Snell thinks that finding a balance in the amount of studying is important to make up for a decline in self-accountability.
“I have been studying a lot more because I feel like it’s required to stay ahead in my classes, but recently I have stopped because I am driving myself crazy by studying that much,” Snell said in an email interview. “I also do not pay attention in the classes I’m in a lot of the time because there are so many distractions around me and not being near people who are focused makes it seem ok for me to not focus, or just check my emails since I can look over the powerpoints easily later.”
Brewer has also struggled with technology more since the shift.
“I used to be attentive in class—varying degrees depending on my mental health, but generally I was present,” Brewer recalled in an email interview. “Now, I’m much more tempted by my computer and the lack of definitive physical class space. My work outside of class has also plummeted in terms of both quality and quantity.”
Since classes have gone online, the SSC has received an increase in appointments and is doing its best to remain a support network for students.
“We’re recording online workshops, like webinar kind of style for different topics,” Assistant Director of Student Success Programs Kaylie Stokes said. “So if students are up at midnight and looking for some help, they can watch that and they don’t have to wait for an appointment.”
These workshops, which range from five to 20 minutes, discuss a variety of techniques and strategies to help students stay concentrated and finish the semester successfully. Also, a weekly newsletter containing tips and advice will be sent out alongside an email with SSC drop-in hours, which will be provided on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“[Before the transition], a lot of students would just hang out in our office during the school year when we were on campus,” Stokes said. “We wanted to try to recreate that as best as we could so if someone just wanted to get some work done while having someone else sitting there to feel social accountability they can do that, or if they wanted to just see another human other than their family for a couple minutes.”
Brewer is one of the students who uses the SSC as a resource and has gained some strategies to help them during class.
“I have online meetings with a Student Success Center coach every week,” Brewer said. “I also have a planner I try to maintain, but I have not been keeping up with it for this week. During lectures I try to turn my camera on; I don’t want my professor to see me distracted and that helps a good bit.”
However, maintaining new habits can be challenging.
“They’ve definitely helped, but I have struggled with discipline and consistency with my schoolwork generally, so it feels like a constant battle,” Brewer said.
Snell has attended TA sessions and office hours a few times, and overall is starting to lessen their distractions but still finds it hard to be attentive in class.
“I have stopped opening tabs and online shopping or watching YouTube during class time, but sometimes I sleep through class on accident and no one says anything because my professor said we don’t need to attend since it’s recorded,” Snell said.“I’ve been going just so I can keep some sort of routine.”
Stokes recommends that students should find out what is causing their distractions in order to be more in control of them. For example, if reading the news is a source of stress and anxiety, Stokes suggested scheduling a chunk of time to catch up instead of constantly refreshing news websites.
“What’s pulling at our focus needs an outlet and taking a moment to reflect on it and [creating] outlets in your day that give them space is important,” Stokes said.
Stokes also noted that feeling more resistant towards classwork is normal.
“We have to all reset our expectations during this time,” Stokes said. “We can do our best and anticipate challenges and plan for them and build our support networks, but at the end of the day this is a new situation for all of us so it is okay to feel like you have less focus right now, that’s natural given everything that’s going on.”
It is also important to have self-compassion and self-forgiveness, since not every strategy students use to create opportunities to feel focused will be done perfectly.
“I try to be forgiving,” Brewer said. “This situation is unprecedented, and none of us had any adjustment time. But being in class is still the easiest thing for me to do, so I’m proud of myself.”
On a final note, Stokes misses everyone and understands what students are going through, but encourages students to finish up the semester.
“Academics may seem very insignificant right now, like ‘why does this matter?’ or ‘it’s not important, everything is falling apart’ and to some extent that’s true, but one thing that can be helpful [to keep in mind] is finishing to set yourself up to have the most options, choices and freedoms at the end of it, instead of having to retake courses, not have the prerequisites you need, or losing financial aid,” Stokes said. “It doesn’t need to be a strong finish but doing it and being done for yourself as a sense of control is super important.”