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Remote Learning FAQs and References

How can I reach out to my professor or TA?

It is important to stay in communication with your class. Make sure you know where and how you can get information and support.

  • Monitor your email and Canvas closely for any instructions on communicating, as well as general instructions about the class.
  • Attend virtual office hours if possible. Some instructors and TAs are offering Zoom conferences in lieu of regular office hours. 
  • Stay in touch with classmates. They may welcome getting to connect with another student during this class-from-home time. They can also provide useful information, support, and suggestions. However, if you need to confirm something about an assignment or test, contact your instructor or TA directly.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to your instructor directly, using their preferred method of contact. (To find their contact information, look on the syllabus. If you’re unsure about their preferred method of contact, email is generally the safest option.) Be courteous—“please” and “thank you” go a long way—and remember that every question is a good question.
  • Follow up with your instructor or TA if necessary. Faculty and TAs often get tons of emails a day, and are probably receiving even more during this time, so they may not respond right away. Although the general practice is to follow up after a week, it’s okay to follow up more often in urgent cases, but no more than once a day. 
  • Ask questions early. If you do have questions about the class, an assignment, or the test, it’s best to ask right away, rather than waiting. This gives your instructor more time to respond, and it also gives you more time to make any necessary adjustments.

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How should I study now that the academic year is remote and there's an optional S/NC policy? 

  • Design your workspace for focused productivity. As much as possible, you’ll want to set up your home workspace for maximum focus. You might not be able to control every aspect of the space, but here are some things to consider if you have the option:​​
    • Close the door to reduce interruption
    • Sit at a desk or table where you can spread out your materials
    • Remove anything from your workspace not related to the task at hand
    • Use a chair that is comfortable, but not so comfortable you’ll fall asleep in it
    • Wear ear plugs or listen to background music (so long as it’s not disruptive) to reduce ambient sound distractions
    • Let others know in advance when you’re available to talk, and when you’d like to be left alone to study
    • If you’re working in your room, make your bed to reduce the temptation to work in it or to take a counter-productively long nap. (If you do decide to nap, try to keep it under 20 minutes!)
    • Provide yourself with healthy things to drink or snack on 
    • As tempting as it is to work in your pajamas, this may not be conducive to feeling committed to the exertions of learning. So get ready for the day as if you were leaving the house!
  • Ensure a productive digital workspace. For most, that means silencing your phone and putting it out of sight, closing unnecessary tabs on your computer, turning off computer notifications, and so on.

  • Focus on the positive. The S/NC optional grading policy is a departure from what many students are used to. Some might find it unsettling or even upsetting. This is understandable. Maybe you had hoped to boost your GPA this quarter, or you’re worried what graduate schools will think about an “S” in a class that would normally require a letter grade. If you’re concerned about the impact a S/NC will have on your motivation or academic standing, here are a few things to keep in mind: 

    • Remember you’re not alone. Many other universities have implemented similar policies, and leading medical, professional and other graduate schools have pledged their commitment not to penalize undergraduates for taking ungraded courses at this time.

    • Know you’ll still get feedback on your work. Instructors will continue to track your progress and provide feedback on your assignments, so you’ll know whether you’re meeting the course goals. If you are concerned about your standing in a particular course, reach out to your instructor or TA directly.

    • Appreciate the learning process. Many students genuinely enjoy learning but get bogged down by the pressure to get an A. Not having letter grades can actually reduce stress and enhance your intrinsic motivation to learn. 

  • For answers to other grading-related questions you might have, see the Spring Quarter FAQs on the Teach Anywhere site, or read this article from Faculty Senate Chair Tim Stearns.

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How should I prepare for a remote test?

You can meet with an Academic Coach via Zoom to see how the strategies below can be tailored to your learning. We help with learning in STEM, social science, and humanities courses; planning out your study schedule; overcoming procrastination, managing your remote workspace; and more. Below are strategies for all testsday-long or multi-day teststimed tests, and writing essays.

For All Tests

What to Expect
An open book test, done from the comfort of your own room, might sound great. But it may be quite different from what you are accustomed to and more challenging than you expect. Prepare, prepare, prepare!

  • Open book tests tend to focus on the “how” and “why” (since you generally have access to the “what”), so keep this in mind as you prepare. You’ll be expected to think critically and to analyze and apply information across different problem types and situations.

  • Don’t count on having time to look everything up. You won’t have time to learn a whole new concept during the test, so aim for understanding when you’re preparing for the test.

  • Know the Honor Code. Read this FAQ on how the Stanford Honor Code applies to open-book tests.

How to Prepare
There are many things you can do in advance to set yourself up for success on a test. What strategies below would work for you?

  • Be aware of the course policies regarding collaboration and materials sharing, and follow them closely.

  • Care for yourself. If a test is worth a large percentage of your grade, it would be tempting to neglect self-care so you can spend more time on studying. Consider writing a simple plan for your day that incorporates the best times for working, exercise, socializing, hydration, meals, and sleep.

  • Review test strategies. Depending on the type of test you are taking (multiple choice, short-answer essay, etc.), you may need to practice different strategies to stay as sharp as possible. Check out our test prep handouts for suggestions.

  • Get organized by grouping materials on the same topic together; creating lists of important equations, vocabulary, and the like; and creating concept maps, study guides, and outlines.

  • Make a list of what material the test is going to cover and what resources would be helpful to have at your fingertips. 

  • Practice makes perfect. To strengthen what you already know and identify what you need to boost, do a practice test without reviewing your notes. Although this is less comfortable than reviewing notes first, you will be repaid for the discomfort by further reinforcing what you know and identifying what you don't—so you can focus your efforts on improving those weaker areas.

  • Practice by emulating the testing situation. Consider studying and taking practice tests in the same situation you will be in during the actual test: same time of day, same time limitation, same resources available.

  • Keep a running list of any questions you have as you go through your preparations. Seek out the answers through your own resources and communication with your TA or instructor.

  • Need help focusing? In addition to preparing a concentration-friendly workspace as described above, you can also look into focusing tools, such as the Pomodoro Technique. There are some helpful tutorials about this technique on YouTube to help get you started.

  • Learn to reduce test anxiety. Many students hit a tough problem on a test, get very anxious, and then have difficulty concentrating even on subsequent problems. If you do hit a problem you’re not sure about, how will you talk yourself through it? Write down your ideas in advance or talk to someone about them. Read more about reducing test anxiety.

Taking the Test
The key to effective test taking is knowing how to stay calm and be strategic. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Plan how you will step through the test. It is not necessarily best to go from the beginning to the end. Look over the test, estimating how long sections or problems will take, noting how many points each problem is worth, ensuring comprehension of the instructions, and jotting down a brief plan for completing the test. 

  • Revisit your plan. As you go through the test, keep referring to the plan you wrote. Feel free to revise it. It is a decision-making tool, not a list of commandments. Guide yourself through this experience kindly and wisely.

  • Double-check your work. If you have time at the end, you can check your answers against your notes or materials.

[Strategies for all testsday-long or multi-day teststimed tests, and writing essays]

For Day-Long or Multi-Day Tests

  • Use social accountability. Generally speaking, people find they have to do more to motivate themselves when they are working at home than at school. Discuss your test plans with a friend or family member to help overcome procrastination. During breaks, you can send them a quick text to report your progress (without violating the Honor Code, of course) and help you stay on track. 

  • Schedule breaks. Breaks will keep you focused. A good schedule of breaks might be a 5 minute break every 30 minutes or so, a 20 minute break every 2 hours, and an hour-long break (lunch!) after 4 hours.

  • Take quality breaks. Stretching, getting some water, or walking around the block are good breaks—your brain rejuvenates and it is easy to get back to work after a few minutes. By contrast, staying seated while checking email or social media often increases stress and fatigue and promotes excessively long breaks.

[Strategies for all testsday-long or multi-day teststimed tests, and writing essays]

For Timed Tests

  • Watch the clock. Once you have planned out how you will step through the test and have actually begun, keep your eye on the clock. It’s okay if you change your plan as you go through, but it might be helpful to set timers so you can stay on pace.

  • When you don’t know what to do, do something. You may hit a difficult question and  think, “I don’t know what to do!” But if you just start writing whatever comes to mind— anything associated with the problem at all—this might lead to you realizing something practical you can act on.

  • Show your steps even though you are moving fast. Steps get you partial credit.

  • Skip and go back, rather than using up too much time on a single problem.

[Strategies for all testsday-long or multi-day teststimed tests, and writing essays]

Writing Essays

  • Read instructions carefully, circling and underlining key words, to ensure you understand them well.

  • First make a mess, then clean it up. Following this advice from educational psychologist William G. Perry Jr. will allow you to write with less stop-and-start. As you implement the strategies below, just start typing whatever comes to mind, then fix it!

  • Attempt to generate a working thesis statement early on—your opinion plus your reasons for that opinion. That can guide your reading, keeping it efficient. As you learn more by reading, revise your thesis statement.

  • Draft a simple outline before you start trying to crank out text. At the very least, include your thesis statement, main sections, and a few sub points for each section. 

  • Draft the body first. It’s easier to write an introduction when you know what you are introducing!

  • Cite your sources correctly. Rules of thumb: if the sentence you wrote is a direct quotation, or a paraphrase of someone else’s idea, cite it. Don’t worry about over-citing; only under-citing will cause significant problems. Under-citing is a form of plagiarism.

  • If time permits, take a break from the essay, and then revise with fresh eyes. It’s helpful to have some distance from your work to catch errors. 

[Strategies for all testsday-long or multi-day teststimed tests, and writing essays]

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What are some general strategies for remote studying? 

  • Designate a specific area as your workspace and only go there to study
    • ​Why this works: Your brain picks up cues from your environment. If you try to work where you usually relax, you might find it difficult to focus.
    • How to do it: Choose a new place where you only go to work. This can be a completely different location (like a library or coffee shop), or a specific part of your home (like a dining room table). Going there will help your brain get into work mode.
  • Leave your phone behind
    • Why this works: Studies have shown that if a distraction is accessible to you, even if it’s silent, you tend to be less focused than if it’s in a different room or otherwise out of reach. 

    • How to do it: Try keeping your phone out of reach when you’re studying, whether that means putting it at the bottom of your bag or in a different room.

  • Use the Pomodoro Technique
    • Why this works: Using the Pomodoro Technique, you work for 25 minutes, and then take a 5 minute break. You take a 15 minute break after 4 Pomodoros. It can be easier to focus when you know you only need to do it for the next 25 minutes, and the short, frequent breaks can help you recharge.

    • How to do it: There are a number of free websites, browser extensions, and apps with pre-set timers, and you can customize the work/break times to your preferences.

  • Set (realistic!) daily goals
    • Why this works: Having a goal to work towards is more motivating than generally wanting to “get something done,” and it’ll help you feel accomplished when you’re done for the day. 

    • How to do it: Each morning, write out a list of what you want to accomplish that day. 

  • Find an accountability partner
    • Why this works: It provides structure to your day, encourages you to define your goals, and motivates you to complete them so that you can tell your accountability partner you succeeded!

    • How to do it: Choose a friend or classmate and check in with each other regularly on your progress. One possible format is that you chat briefly every morning, sharing with each other what you’d like to get done that day, and what you got done the day before.

  • Microtask
    • Why this works: It can be daunting to get started on a huge task because you might feel unprepared, intimidated, or unable to finish on time. By breaking your tasks down into smaller, more manageable chunks, it’s easier to get started—and once you get started you can usually keep going! 

    • How to do it: Break down your tasks into their component parts (ideally things that can be done in 1 hour or less). So instead of sitting down to “study for the final,” your task list might include reviewing each chapter of the textbook, reviewing your notes, taking a practice test, etc. 

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Works Consulted for Remote Learning Resources 

  • Ahrberg, K., Dresler, M., Niedermaier, S., Steiger, A., & Genzel, L. (2012). The interaction between sleep quality and academic performance. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 46(12), 1618-1622. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2012.09.008

  • Bjornsen, C. A., & Archer, K. J. (2015). Relations between college students’ cell phone use during class and grades. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 1(4), 326–336. https://doi.org/10.1037/stl0000045

  • Breines, J. G., & Chen, S. (2012). Self-Compassion Increases Self-Improvement Motivation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(9), 1133–1143. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167212445599

  • Brown, P. C., Roediger III, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick. Harvard University Press.

  • Fakcharoenphol, W., Potter, E., & Stelzer, T. (2011). What students learn when studying physics practice exam problems. Physical Review Special Topics-Physics Education Research, 7(1), 010107. https://doi-org.stanford.idm.oclc.org/10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.7.010107

  • Gailliot, M. T., & Baumeister, R. F. (2007). The physiology of willpower: linking blood glucose to self-control. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11(4), 303–327. https://doi.org/10.1177/1088868307303030

  • Helton, W. S., & Russell, P. N. (2015). Rest is best: The role of rest and task interruptions on vigilance. Cognition, 134, 165-173.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2014.10.001

  • Leary, M. R., Tate, E. B., Adams, C. E., Batts Allen, A., & Hancock, J. (2007). Self-compassion and reactions to unpleasant self-relevant events: The implications of treating oneself kindly. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(5), 887–904. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.92.5.887

  • McGuire, S. Y. (2018). Teach yourself how to learn: Strategies you can use to ace any course at any level. Stylus Publishing, LLC.

  • Neff, K. D. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2, 85-102. https://doi.org/10.1080/15298860309032

  • Ward, A. F., Duke, K., Gneezy, A., & Bos, M. W. (2017). Brain drain: The mere presence of one’s own smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, 2(2), 140-154. https://doi.org/10.1086/691462

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