International students are facing some unique challenges during this period, including relocating back to their home countries and dealing with significant time zones differences. Some students are also seeing an increase in assignments and workloads. Others miss linguistic cues and support in the forms of body language or the ability to check comprehension with a classmate. To address these challenges, Julianne Reynolds, Associate Director of the Office of Learning Resources and Learning Instructor for International Students, recently sat down with Ryan Villanueva, Assistant Director for Integration & Community Engagement at International Student and Scholar Services, for a Q&A session focused on tips for international student success with the transition to remote instruction.
Check out the full conversation in this video or read the summary below:
What services is the Weingarten Office of Learning Resources offering that can be helpful to international students?
We are offering virtual appointments, drop-in sessions, and workshops via BlueJeans. By using the screen share feature, students can share their assignments or calendars with us for feedback. We’re happy to talk about specific assignments or adjusting to remote instruction in general. Appointments are up to 50 minutes and can be scheduled days or weeks in advance. Drop-in sessions are 25 minutes and can only be scheduled the day of. To schedule an appointment or a drop-in session, students can call our main number at 215-573-9235 during regular business hours EST Monday to Friday. Students can also leave a voicemail if they are unable to call us during our business hours. Check out the OLR website for more information on scheduling, upcoming workshops, and special drop-in hours for graduate students.
What advice would you give to someone who has not done online classes before?
This is a sudden and unexpected transition for everybody and many classes were not originally conceptualized to be online classes, so I think we all need to be patient with ourselves and others as we adjust. One tip to smooth the transition is to take the time to sit down and organize your classes. Consider using a chart to keep track of the changes you’re seeing in each class. I recommend using an Excel spreadsheet or even pencil and paper and, for each class, keeping track of the following: What has changed in the syllabus? What are the new deadlines to be aware of? What links are important for this class (e.g., links to pre-recorded lectures, synchronous sessions, online textbooks)? Who can support me in this class (e.g., email addresses for professors, TAs, learning instructors, tutors, study partners). And finally, What questions do I still have about this class? This organization is especially important when the information may be coming from multiple places, including Canvas, emails, and synchronous sessions.
Generally speaking, it’s important to think about where and when you can do your online work. Ideally, I would recommend working in a quiet, distraction-free environment during the times of the day when you are best able to focus on your work. However, the reality is that not everyone is going to have that so you need to figure out what will be “good enough” for now. This might involve some boundary setting with the people you live with. Additionally, I think it’s important to create a daily routine for yourself that includes time for your online coursework as well as time to focus on physical, mental, and social needs.
What advice do you have about staying motivated and engaged with course materials through remote instruction?
On-campus classes may seem like a distant memory right now, but I think it’s a good time to remember your big picture goals like graduating with a Penn degree. To get that degree, you have to finish the assignments to pass your courses. When you sit down to work, try to identify and limit distractions by closing unnecessary browser windows, turning off notifications on your phone, and setting boundaries with family members and roommates. Also, treat online classes like real classes. Get out of bed. Change out of your pajamas. Take notes during class. The advantage of pre-recorded lectures is that you can pause them and rewind them as needed. Most importantly, think about how you can participate actively in your classes. Some classes may have synchronous components where you can ask still ask questions face-to-face. If not, look for online discussion boards, virtual office hours, and opportunities to form virtual study groups. And, of course, you can still meet virtually with learning instructors and tutors to discuss your classes and approaches to learning.
What recommendations would you give to students doing final exams and final projects from their homes?
Pay attention to how your syllabus is changing. We’re seeing a range of possibilities in terms of what final assessments are going to look like. Some exams will still be administered online and timed with exam software. Other in-class exams are changing to open-book take-home exams. Some courses are changing the format entirely, for instance assigning papers instead of exams. And some courses are doing away with the final exam altogether and putting more weight on other assignments instead. Make sure you’re clear on what the final assessment is going to look like for each of your courses. Once you know this, you can start gathering and organizing your study materials such as textbooks, notes, PowerPoint slides, study guides, and practice exams. Then schedule a study plan for yourself in advance, recognizing that it may make sense to break up studying into chunks of time spread over days, if not weeks, rather than marathon study sessions. Give yourself little things to do every day. When the exam day rolls around, make sure you have the best space possible to work – ideally in a room where you can close the door and focus.
What advice do you have about setting academic priorities and expectations for the rest of the semester?
I think it’s important to acknowledge that these are extraordinary times and we can’t expect ourselves to be as productive as we usually are. We have to cut ourselves some slack. There’s a lot of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear right now. We’re easily distracted. Our attention spans are shorter. We may feel less motivated. It’s important to be kind to ourselves and to each other. We first have to attend to our basic needs – food, housing, friends, family, exercise. These are things we need for our physical and mental well-being. We also need to make sure we have the tools we need to do our academic work such as computers, internet access, and special software. Once everything is in place and we feel secure, then we can start to focus on work. Even then, I would recommend starting small. Something is better than nothing. Writing one page is better than writing none. Doing three problems out of ten is better than doing none. It helps to set small, specific, achievable daily goals.
The next ISSS Friday 5 interview on Friday, April 10 will feature CAPS. Register here.
By Staff Writer: Julianne Reynolds, Associate Director of the Office of Learning Resources and Learning Instructor for International Students