Earlier this month, I came across a tweet from a high school teacher:
I think many students can agree that this past spring semester was not what we envisioned: between emergency remote teaching, remote work, layoffs and furloughs, quarantine, worrying about loved ones, and trying to take care of ourselves, our priorities understandably shifted. And, with the fall semester starting, these concerns don’t seem to be going away, leaving many students, teachers, families, and library workers weary and, slightly, detesting their learning since the spring. But as Katie mentioned in her tweet, there were some hidden lights of positivity in all of this, especially in regards to mental health. This observation is certainly something I have noticed in myself over the last few months.
I’ll be very honest: I am a little nervous for online learning this Fall. Before the sudden shift to remote classes in the spring, my only experiences with online learning were general education courses taken during undergrad…very few of which were memorable. But, I refused to let those experiences take over my online grad school experience. That being said, I decided to focus my post this month on some of those positives I gained from the spring (and summer!) semester and how they benefitted my mental health.
Figuring out what works in your online classes…
Before COVID-19, a number of library school grad programs were hybrid or online-only. One of the many reasons why I chose the University of Maryland’s MLIS program was because of the flexibility to take all online classes, all in-person classes, or a mix of both. With all of UMD’s iSchool grad courses being taught remotely this fall, I now know that the best ways for me to learn the information include taking solid notes on readings and applying the theories I read about into assignments. Like Conrrado wrote last week, partaking in those fun, slightly off-topic discussion boards are great to meet classmates and engage with material a different way. From a mental health standpoint, this opportunity to chat with my classmates, even virtually, gave me a sense of community and allowed me to continue sharing my class-related thoughts, despite the lack of a physical small group discussion.
…and figuring out what doesn’t work
I’ll be frank: figuring what did not work for my online learning was trial and error. Mindlessly watching a pre-recorded lecture, slightly skimming the readings, and posting the bare minimum on discussions boards did not cut it for me. Obviously, these experiences resulted in less engagement with class materials. As a result, when I had to discuss the content in a discussion board, brief reflection paper, or a final project, the motivation to do so disappeared… and that’s when procrastination and stress kicked in. I don’t intend to scare you into doing your homework and attending class, but if you find that keeping up on classwork creates a sense of normalcy and reduces stress levels, figuring out what does not contribute to your learning is incredibly beneficial.
Adjusting your schedule
This past fall and spring semester, I spent at least two 12-hour days on campus for work, classes, group projects, and homework – not surprisingly, this schedule was tough to maintain every week. One of the benefits of having all online classes this fall is more flexibility in my schedule. Instead of those multiple 12-hour days on campus, I was able to spread my schedule out in a way to allows some balance between all areas of my day. Not only is this beneficial for my already-overwhelmed Google Calendar, but I believe my abilities to prioritize and complete homework with less procrastination will greatly contribute to my stress-levels and mental health.
Adapting your degree
I’ve mentioned this more than once during my time as a contributing writer for HLS: I have no idea what to do with my MLIS. I dabbled in archives and special collections; I explored academic libraries; I researched metadata job opportunities with an MLIS. Now with a really uncertain post-COVID-19 job market, this indecisiveness feels gut-wrenching at times. However, I am very fortunate to have a wide variety of elective courses that can help streamline my career goals and develop new skills for the market. For example, with all of UMD’s MLIS classes online for summer session, I used the remote nature to enroll in a social media analytics class… and it might have been my favorite class yet. After success with this class, I decided to enroll in a data analytics class this fall; the online-only class was actually what pushed me to enroll. While taking course on a brand-new topic online feels daunting, the ability to develop new skills at my own pace (while turning in assignments on time) alleviates a little bit of pressure on knowing what to do after graduation. In a way, I feel that I have more control of my education and future career.
Finally, if you find yourself struggling with any parts of life – school, family, work, physical health, mental health, or anything else – please reach out to somebody who can help you. In times of quarantine, socializing levels are on a downslope and isolation can feel on the rise. I am in no means a mental health expert, but I have found that spinning recent events into a positive light can greatly contribute to my education and overall health and wellbeing.
Sarah is starting her second year of her MLIS at the University of Maryland. When she’s not in class, you can find her binge-reading books, cooking, and trying complete a home workout or two.