Students communicate strategies and pitfalls

Heike Lower says "View from my study room Kelkheim, Germany"

During National Distance Learning Week we asked UAF CTL students to join a conversation. We used Facebook as the avenue to propose questions and receive responses.  To start we asked students to share the view from their favorite work space. The images shared by students of sunrises, lakes, mountain villages, their children in their study area with them, beautiful vistas out their windows, snow-covered cars, cats, dogs just might resonate with you. So many desks–some clean, others crammed with memorabilia, papers and textbooks.
Here’s what else we asked:

  • Share a tool or strategy that helps you get your schoolwork done on time.
  • What has been an unexpected challenge you face(d) while completing your online/distance courses?
  • Complete this sentence: I chose the University of Alaska Fairbanks because ______.
  • Distance classes and online degrees are often a means to an end. What’s your ultimate goal?

Strategies and tools

Think of a tool or strategy you use to prep your course materials, interact with students to provide feedback and guidance, and return graded assignments. This is part of what students shared about how they stay on top of their work and the pitfalls they experience. Scan the list and mentally tick off what resonates with you.

  • Playing music in the background; using Spotify’s weekly playlists
  • Creating a list and putting the due date 1-2 day(s) earlier or using an earlier time zone for deadlines
  • Budgeting time and having snacks ready
  • Setting aside time to get out of the house to work in a more conducive environment
  • Paper planners, Google calendars, or using the online class schedule
  • A whiteboard updated by week or written in as soon as the assignment is given
  • Treating schoolwork just like a job–setting aside time and sticking to the schedule
  • Rewarding yourself with sewing, gaming, reading or a television show once an assignment is finished
Lizzy Bilandzia says "I write everything down and color code it!"

While viewing student responses, I saw Moleskin, Grammarly, Evernote, the “Bear” app (ios), sticky notes, and a cup of tea! Caffeine showed up in several posts. Everyone has tools they use. It was a great way to hear about apps the students are using like Swipes app for task management and PERRLAComplete which has help writing papers and a great calendaring system.

Shared pitfalls

As a response to one of the prompts students shared similar difficulties like connection lags, missing being in the classroom, staying committed when no one is reminding you to complete your work.  Getting timely feedback on activities and assignments, and being able to communicate with the instructor in a way that feels natural came up as well.

Something popped up that I didn’t expect: how to deal with an unusual due date system. This student shared the first 60% of the units were due by the withdrawal date but the remainder were due by finals week. Opportunity comes with a great challenge; the answer? The student chose spaced-out delivery dates for the assignments.

We need feedback just as the student does. One student indicated course evaluations come out during cram time. This process gets mentally set aside in favor of completing work.


I recommend using voice versus video if you know your students have connection or bandwidth issues. Provide weekly, or more frequent, announcements through Blackboard or email to continue engaging your students. Ping them via avenues they travel–help them keep focus.

You are the content expert; you know teaching. Knowing your student population and educational experiences helps guide you in day-to-day classroom management tasks. See what your students are chatting about in this open environment.


National Distance Learning Week –
UAF CTL Facebook page –

See the PDF for this Teaching Tip.

Janene McMahan

Janene McMahan

Instructional Designer
Quality Matters Coordinator
Google Certified Educator

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