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Surviving First Semester in COVID College….

Parents tend to let out a sigh of relief when their son or daughter finally decides on and commences a college course. What they do not realise for lots of students, it is genuinely a real struggle to persist and successfully get through the first semester. This year, more than ever. Below are several issues that students have identified they are currently struggling with…...

“In College Workspace” …. Students need to have a dedicated space to do college work, so their minds can switch on when in their “working space” and off when outside this zone. Student burn-out is a real problem. On average, college students may be sitting in front of a computer screen for up to 6 hours a day; and are being given assignment after assignment to also complete online. When physically in college; between classes, students get up and move around – get tea/coffee; lunch; go on their phones, meet friends, etc get real breaks from study. Now, not only are they staying in front of their screens all day but have also starting to eat their meals in front of them. They need to take breaks, get away from the screens - get outside, go talk to their families, eat at the kitchen table, take the dog for a walk, just do something different.

Being Part of a College Community …Many first-year students have not yet stepped inside their college campuses. Neither have they yet met their classmates in person. Those who are lucky enough to have practical or lab classes scheduled as part of their college course are on campus for short periods of time, social distanced and masked, as is necessary. The negative impact of not being able to feel part of a college community and build up class comradery to survive cannot be over-emphasised. In every class group, there are always those students who motivate and pull the group along, who seem to have all the answers; who offer advice, support and a shoulder to cry on, who are the spokespeople on behalf of the group when problems arise… the list goes on. This is the “invisible student support mechanism” which exists in every class, on every course, in every college – normally – and gets numerous students through their course. The only means of dealing with this non-existence this year is through building online communities for class groups – be it via Moodle; Teams; Facebook; WhatsApp; email; - it doesn’t really matter once a student has a forum to ask a question and get a response; have a group discussion about their course and the problems they are encountering. If the college is not officially arranging this mechanism for communicating; the students need to do this for their own class groups. During lockdown #1, this was what kept numerous students going – both academically and personally. Unless these online communities are created and used, first year dropout rates with increase dramatically.

Adapting to a New Learning Environment….. The college learning environment is self-directed so that in simple terms means – the students are responsible for all their own learning and completing work assigned. Nobody is going to look over their shoulders to check that they are doing the work. This difference from secondary school, where they are assigned work and directed in all their learning, proves very daunting for the new college students. Very often, at the end of a semester, students suddenly realise they were supposed to have submitted several assignments and “nobody told them or reminded them”. A good tip for survival is to access the semester’s assessment schedule for their course and follow this rigidly to meet deadlines.

Academic Work…..Another major difficulty students encounter, resulting in zero or extremely low grades in their first set of assignments, is their inability to understand and/or use academic referencing. It is simple; if you use an idea or a piece of text or material that another person came up – you need to reference it. In college, assignments are submitted using software to check and highlight any work that is copied. If students are having trouble grasping all the new academic policies and procedures, there are academic supports in every college. They must bite the bullet and ask, but they are normally slow to do this. They need to know that college students are actively encouraged to seek both academic support and student services support whenever they need it.

Where to Get Answers…Students coming from secondary school find it difficult in college to know who to go to or where to go with questions. They need to realise that while it was mandatory to attend secondary school; attending college is a personal choice. As such, they are paying customers in the colleges they choose. Every business wants to keep their customers happy - keeping in mind colleges are the same. Colleges want to retain as many students as possible each year. They will want to support them in every way possible through first year and ideally until graduation. It is important for each student to remember this fact so when they encounter a problem, they contact their Course Head (via email to have a written record!) as quickly as possible to reduce any negative impact on their studies or college experience.

Article written for Kerry's Eye Newspaper November 2020

Mary Lucey is an Educational Consultant and Founder of Career Ahead


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