Inside Quizlet

5 essential tips for surviving your remote learning nightmare

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Quizlet is proud to partner with real students and recent graduates to showcase authentic voices on our blog. This guest post is by Nicolette Kier, who just graduated from the University of Pittsburgh.


No one can deny that this year has been crazy (among many other things). Everyone has their own way of coping. But Millennial and Gen-Z kids have our own particular way of dealing: memes. Really, it’s humor in general. Maybe it’s because we like avoiding things, or life is too hard to even comprehend right now, but it is what it is.

Remote learning is definitely something that students struggle with. So, in keeping with the humor-as-coping-mechanism thing, here are some tips for remote learning that will make it more bearable, if not fun.

1. You’re going to be staring at your Zoom background for...I don’t even know how long. Make it something good.

meme background copy.jpg You may not have the option to go to school. But you do have options. (Image courtesy of Screenrant.)

Yes, changing your Zoom background is putting more effort into something you might already hate. But, there are three reasons to take the time and do this:

  1. You don’t have to keep your room clean because no one can see it.
  2. People will focus less on your face and more on your good taste.
  3. The clout, obviously. Your Zoom background is an online learning flex.

See this as an opportunity—a statement, even. No one can really appreciate your outfit (if it’s not sweats, that is) online, so the Zoom background will have to do.

How to change your Zoom background

First, go to the Zoom website (not the desktop app). Log in to your account.

You’re doing great so far.

Then go to My Account, and in the menu, choose Settings. Then scroll all the way down to the Virtual Background options. Make sure that the option is enabled.

zoom background settings.png It should look something like this. (Image courtesy of Zoom.)

Now open the desktop app, and click on the gear icon.

zoom settings.png Isn’t it nice when there's no meetings? (Image courtesy of Zoom.)

This will take you to your video settings.

In the Settings menu, select Backgrounds and Filters, and then you should see all the preset Virtual Backgrounds. You can add a new photo by clicking the plus (+) sign in the same Virtual Backgrounds area. You can upload any file you want, but the best size photo is 1920x1080 pixels. If you don’t know the size of your photo, here's how to find out.

changing your zoom background.png And then it was me. (Image courtesy of Zoom.)

You can’t use a virtual background unless you have your own green screen, or download the “Green Screen” from Zoom (this will pop up whenever you click on your new background). I’m not a YouTuber, so I don’t have a green screen. I downloaded the green screen option and, presto, I’m the girl that guy is always getting distracted by.

Here are some other choice Zoom backgrounds that are just...chef’s kiss, guys.

2. Take liberties with your projects. Seriously, remote learning can be an opportunity.

friends meme.png Get creative like this: the internet is a tool, guys, use it. (Image courtesy of Memezar.)

I started remote learning about a month before my finals, so there weren’t many assignments left. But you best believe I turned in some interesting final exams.

You can’t stand in English class and give a presentation. You can’t turn in a physical model of the solar system for science class. You pretty much have three options: a paper, images or videos. Make it work for you.

Some choice examples of making it work:

  • I created an Instagram account for a final project and “told a narrative” through images and captions. I leaned on social media as a medium and got feedback from the class through comments on my posts.
  • I wrote my final paper in a history class about memes in the era of coronavirus. (It was comprehensive, highbrow, and tasteful, if you were wondering.)
  • My sister recorded a rap about Uranus for a project in her eighth grade science class. (It is nothing short of a gem. She’s considering dropping it on SoundCloud.)

The domain of high schoolers and college students is the internet. Use your online skills as a medium for your projects: use social media, use Photoshop, use videos. Try to take the projects you’re given and make them interesting.

Note: Make sure to discuss with your teachers what kinds of work will be acceptable. But teachers are more flexible than you think, especially now. They kind of have to be.

3. Be honest in your emails. Your teachers probably feel the same way you do.

funny email tweet.jpg Okay, not this honest. (Image courtesy of Chris Evans Stan)

If you haven’t slowly walked up to your professor after class to either...

A. Ask several questions you were too embarrassed to do in class.
B. Solemnly explain to them your whole life situation and then ask for an extension.

...then I’m really proud of you.

For those of us who have, your instructors can see your frustration (or your tears) in person. It’s much easier for them to understand what it is you don’t understand about a problem, or understand your situation, if they can see you face-to-face.

Since that’s not really possible right now, you just have to use your words. If you don’t understand something, be extremely specific about what it is you don’t understand. If you’re a math student, you might take pictures of your work so far. Math professors can understand your line of thought by your steps, sort of like finding out where you made a wrong turn on the way to a destination.

If you’re in the middle of a stressful life situation, be extremely honest about it. Most likely, your teacher is not having a great time either. And they will also understand if you’re having difficulty coping.

For example: I had a very difficult time getting work done right before finals. I was working at a grocery store and had five other classes. Three days before a project was due, my internet cable literally snapped because a tree fell on it. Needless to say, my project was not getting done. My professor understood, and gave me an extension.

A few notes though: Make sure you really need it. And make sure to be honest as soon as you find yourself struggling.

I had established an open line of communication with my professor as soon as I found myself falling behind in class. So when my cable line snapped, she already knew that I was behind, and that there was no possible way of turning anything in.

If I had emailed her the night before and told her this, she would’ve probably asked why I had nothing done, and probably have thought it was a copout. But she didn’t, because I had been in communication with her the whole time.

And if you have a disability, then really be upfront about it. If you have difficulty looking at screens for long periods of time, or sitting still, or comprehending things outside of class, you will have a much easier time at school if you just start the school year off letting your instructors know that.

Don’t know how to open up and talk to them about it? Start here.

4. You’re going to be living at your desk at home for a while. You might as well make it comfy.

kermit meme.png We’ve all been there. (Image courtesy of Body and Soul.)

I don’t know anyone who can be productive in their bed (if you can, again, proud of you). But it’s actually not great to do that. Your mind starts to associate your bed with work, instead of relaxation, and it's harder to get deep, restorative sleep at night.

Usually, you could go to the library, the coffee shop, sit in a classroom, a friend’s house, really anywhere besides your house that has a table and an outlet. That’s not an option right now, so you have to make a workspace for yourself at home.

Right now, you’re either in two living situations:

1. You’re at home with your parents.

You’re still in high school. Or, instead of footing the bill for a dorm to sit in and go to school on your laptop, you stayed at home to go to school on your laptop. Either way, you don’t have full control over the space.

You’ll have to negotiate a space, mark your territory, stake your claim. It should ideally be someplace relatively quiet, without a lot of foot traffic from the family. Maybe you’re looking out a window at a crisp fall day. Maybe you’ve got a dank basement kind of deal (I hope not, but you work with what you’ve got.) It just has to be somewhere you can focus.

You’ll also have to either commandeer some furniture from around the house, buy some furniture (read: Goodwill), or maybe you hang outside a nice neighborhood on trash day, I don’t know.

2. You’re living on your own.

You’re in a dorm room, your own apartment, or you’re living with chill roommates who don’t mind how the place gets rearranged. If you have those kind of roommates, cherish them. They do not come along often.

In either situation, these are my recommendations for the bare minimum study setup, for I am a broke college student working with the bare minimum:

The ideal remote learning study setup checklist:

  • A decent desk chair. You only get one back, so treat it well. Don’t know what qualifies as a decent desk chair? Read up on some recommendations here.

  • A flat surface, ideally a space all to yourself, not a sticky table shared with loud seven year olds who spill liquids everywhere.

  • Some kind of wrist padding. You’re typing on a keyboard all day, which can put a strain on your wrists. Give them a little support for their hard work!

  • A computer mouse. This one depends on your line of work. I use a lot of Photoshop, so I need it. Really, if you’re scrolling a lot at all, you should consider it. You can get wireless ones with USB ports that plug right into the side of your laptop.

  • Some knick-knacks, or motivators. On my desk, I have a crown, so I remember that I’m a queen. I also have my vision board (I know I’m boujee) above my desk to remember why I’m bothering to do work in the first place, and some cute stuffed animals that just make me happy. Whatever you put in your space is your choice. But they should make you happy without being overly distracting.

  • Water. I am all about drinking enough water. If I know I’m about to sit down in one spot for several hours, I fill up two water bottles and keep them on my desk, in my line of sight. Then I have no excuse not to drink water. I do the same thing with snacks, too.

And please, please, put something on your desk or wall that makes you laugh a little. (I suggest memes, obviously: the rest of my wall is covered in memes, especially Avatar the Last Airbender ones.)

Need more ideas? Check out these 20 do it yourself study spaces for inspiration.

5. Cut yourself off of work at some point. Seriously.

spongebob meme.jpgOkay, but you have to actually do something first. (Image courtesy of Techblog.)

When you go to school in person, there’s a concrete slot of time when you think about those classes: when you’re preparing for them, and when you’re in them. But at some point, you do stop thinking about them, right?

But when you go to school online, there’s no set “off period”: there’s always something to be done, especially when a physical line between work and home just doesn’t exist. You’re technically always at school now.

When your brain doesn’t fully shut off from thinking about work or school:

  1. You’re always a little bit anxious about what you need to get done.
  2. Even when you are “relaxing,” it just feels like procrastinating.
  3. You get so tired of thinking about classes that you do end up procrastinating.

I didn’t realize this was happening to me until I was up at night, thinking about what had been done, what I didn’t do, and what had to be done the next day. At ten pm, I would think: “Maybe just do a little more, that way you don’t have so much to do tomorrow.” Then I’d try to read or write while basically brain-dead.

There is a word for this: burnout. And it’ll drain your mind and your energy.

It’s good to take mental breaks—full mental breaks, not ones where you feel like you’re just procrastinating, or avoiding, or “being lazy.” You deserve breaks, but make the most of them, so that when you do start working again, you feel refreshed and ready to go.

How to take a mindful break from remote learning

First, timing is everything. Don’t take a long, restorative break three hours before a midterm is due. (I mean, take short breaks then, but definitely not this kind of break.) Don’t take one in the middle of a class, either—zoning out does not count as a break. Literally build this break into your schedule.

There are two options for scheduling this long break. Do all of your assignments and turn them in, so you have nothing to do. Or, choose a time when your workload is lighter, and you’ve maybe already started on your assignments, and nothing is due the next day.

I’m a worrier, so I like to write down everything I need to do after the break is over. If I have a plan for getting all of my work done, and I know I don’t absolutely need this break time to get something done, then I feel much better taking time off.

What you do during your break is up to you, but I like to do something I don’t normally do that feels restorative, something that really brings me joy. I personally dance, but maybe you do art, or face masks, or play Call of Duty with the boys. Just make sure it’s something you can completely immerse yourself in. Leave all your worrying thoughts behind.

Make sure you’ve set a start and end to your break, that way you can get back on track later. You can set a time every week to do something good for yourself, or just plan it when you start feeling burned out. I go to the studio every Saturday, but I find the time for breaks when I need them at other times.

There is no denying that remote learning is going to be rough.

this is fine meme.png Focusing in a Zoom class is definitely harder than class in-person, no? (Image courtesy of Thomdoesfunny.)

From an avalanche of emails, to Zoom classes where you can definitely prop your phone up to look like you’re paying attention and then missing everything the teacher says, to a heavier workload (because for some reason teachers think that if you’re not “in school,” you need a lot more homework), remote learning is probably your personal nightmare.

I hope that these tips will shed a little light on the opportunities of remote learning. If nothing else, you liked my memes.

What’s remote learning like for you? Any other tips to make it less terrible?

Nicolette Kier just made it to the other side of a degree in physics and writing from the University of Pittsburgh. She reaped the usual rewards of college: knowledge, a job, and debt. She thinks it was worth it.


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