Colleges (and high schools) across the world have switched to teaching classes online due to the current COVID–19 outbreak. I just finished my first week of taking classes entirely online. This post is a brief reflection on my experience of the sudden adjustment: what went well, and what didn’t?

The format

All of my classes are meeting via video chat at the regular time. In two of them it is more or less expected that students will enable their cameras, and in the other two only a few students do. Three out of my four classes are continuing to operate more or less as normal — class is either lecture- or discussion-based, as it was before classes moved online — and the fourth, a math class, has “flipped the classroom,” which means that we watch lectures in advance of classtime, and classtime becomes an opportunity to ask questions. My classes continue to have the same kinds of assignments as before.

The upsides

For me, watching recorded math lectures is a good way to learn. I won’t miss anything because I can pause or rewind the video, and I won’t become bored because I can play it faster than real-time (I like 1.5×).

In my politics class, rather than having full-class discussions, we have several simultaneous small discussions, which means everyone gets to take a more active role in discussing the material.

The downsides

My school is in the Eastern time zone but I’m currently at home in the Pacific time zone. This means that all of my classes happen three hours earlier in my local time than they did when I was on campus. Rather than having class at 11 in the morning every day, I now have class at 8. I’m not a morning person (I prefer to wake up at 9), so this has been difficult. I hope that it will become better in the coming weeks as I get more used to the routine, but I doubt that it will.

In addition to that, online class is just less engaging. Immediacy is lost when everything happens on my laptop screen. I end up paying less attention. This will of course probably come back to bite me later.

Lastly, I noted above that I liked watching recorded math lectures. Unfortunately, the price that I pay for this is that the actual classtime for my math class ends up being largely unhelpful. The time is an opportunity for questions, and in addition to that the professor often goes over parts of the recorded lectures to re-emphasize that content. I haven’t yet had a question to ask (as the lectures are quite good!), nor have I felt like I really benefitted from watching lecture material be presented again. So I’m beginning to feel like it isn’t worth it to wake up at 7:30 in the morning for that class — the tradeoff doesn’t seem worth it. And the classes are recorded, so I can watch those videos after the fact.

Overall feeling

The first week of online classes are defined by a lack of drive and a repetitive cycle of ambiguously passing time. Being at home all day (aside from getting out once a day for a walk or a run) means that all the days blur together. Looking back, it seems like I wasted many hours on idle time-passing that should have been better spent on schoolwork or fun, elective leisure activities that I would actually enjoy.

So far, I’ve been waking up an hour and a half earlier than I normally do but struggling to fall asleep early enough to get a full eight hours of sleep. This has led to a cycle where I wake up groggy and tired, attend class, and then lack energy and motivation to work on my schoolwork. Then, if I don’t finish my work early enough, I have to finish it at night, pushing back my bedtime. Twice this past week I took a nap during the day, and both times it certainly helped my overall level of concentration and motivation. I should be more consistent about that.

Ultimately, this is not a situation that anybody wanted to be in. We cannot have class and school in person, so this is how we make do. My professors are working hard to adapt their material for the online format and make themselves available to support their students, while in some cases taking care of their children at home. I’m glad that technology enables me to continue my education despite an ongoing pandemic.

Stay healthy. Stay home.