By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Public University
As an online educator for the past 11 years, I have observed numerous online students successfully overcome many different challenges as they pursue their college education. For example, I have seen students deal with adversity that involves managing their education and their work responsibilities simultaneously, unexpected family emergencies, and military deployments.
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For many college students, balancing multiple responsibilities and an online education is challenging enough. Now they face the coronavirus pandemic.
Coronavirus Has Presented New Challenges for Online Students
The coronavirus has presented online students with new and dynamic challenges. With brick-and-mortar schools shuttered, they and more seasoned online learners are feeling the stress and challenges of working in a completely new environment. Student loss of income, family members or students who have become ill, and the uncertainty of the future are some of the most common stressors I have observed in my online students in just the past six weeks.
In addition, Americans across 41 states have been urged or required to stay at home. In what would have been unthinkable a few months ago, millions of people are remaining indoors for the sake of their health and the health of others. This can have an impact on all online learners’ study routine because they are forced to make adjustments to accommodate other family members who are also staying indoors.
Moreover, some online college students are first responders or in the medical field. The coronavirus pandemic has forced them to work substantial hours of overtime, which has also created unexpected challenges for them in the classroom.
Useful Tips for Online Students during the Coronavirus Pandemic
One of the most important steps in overcoming the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic is for students to develop a highly structured study routine. This is likely to include setting time aside each day when they can access their coursework in a location free of distractions.
It is often helpful to avoid social media, TV and other household distractions during this time. It is especially important not to watch the news while completing coursework. The around-the-clock coverage of the coronavirus can be very distracting and increase stress. Developing an effective, structured routine also includes ensuring proper nutrition and rest.
Another important strategy is to set milestone goals. This may include completing major writing assignments before their due dates, completing online discussion requirements earlier in the week to have more free time on the weekend, or organizing notes for studying for a midterm or final exam.
It is also very important that online college students keep their instructors informed of any changes or challenges they are experiencing. In a traditional classroom, an instructor would likely notice recurring absences or if a student appears to be struggling. In the online learning environment, instructors depend on their students to keep them informed of situations that are conflicting with their success in the classroom.
I have had several students reach out for additional support and guidance due to challenges from the coronavirus. These challenges have included ill family members, increased overtime at work and even an inability to complete coursework at a local library because of the coronavirus closures. As a result of these conditions, I have extended assignment and course deadlines, and helped students overcome any specific difficulty they are experiencing as a result of the coronavirus.
Although the coronavirus pandemic has presented online students with new challenges, setting a structured plan and remaining in contact with instructors are some of the best ways to overcome these challenges.
About the Author
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor at American Public University. He has over eleven years’ experience as an online educator and he completed his education as an online learner himself. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Europe, and Central America on the topic of human trafficking, counterterrorism, police responses to domestic terrorism, and police stress management. Most recently, he presented at the International Human Trafficking Conference. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering.
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