How parents can support college students amid COVID-19 challenges

Like the rest of us, students have had their lives turned upside down. Many of them had fallen into a rhythm and halfway through the semester, they had to throw that out the window.

Nicole Herrera is a professor at Stark State College in North Canton. She explained that while the course calendar, materials to cover, and assignments due have remained the same; the non-academic elements of college students’ lives have been disrupted.

“For example, some of my students lost their jobs, while others who were deemed essential had their hours doubled. The stress of the pandemic added to all of the stress of being a college student has created mental health issues for my students. For some of them, just the disruption in their schedules has caused them to be disoriented and not sure how to move forward. It’s a lot,” explained Professor Herrera.

Additionally, professor Herrera added that there are three main differences between online learning and face-to-face learning.

Human Interaction – “I think we’re all seeing how important this interaction is in our lives now that we have so little of it,” she explained. “In my classroom, we rely very heavily on class discussions and interactions. Students can learn so much from each other and that one brave student who asks a question can help the entire class learn. I try not to lecture a lot and instead just guide the classroom discussions with questions and observations.” She noted that while she is attempting to replicate this kind of interaction in online discussion forums, the dynamics are not always the same. However, she added that sometimes the online forums can allow students to feel even safer, especially those not normally comfortable speaking in front of the entire class. 

Accountability – Professor Hererra indicated when the transition from traditional learning to online learning first took place, many of her otherwise ‘good’ students noting that they had so much more work to do. “I teach the same classes both online and in-person. Actually, I took away some work for students to help them transition a little more smoothly,” she explained. So, why were they feeling this way? “Simple, because they had all the work for the day/week from my class and their other classes are given to them at once. There wasn’t that break between homework and classwork-it was all homework- and so it reasonably felt overwhelming. Online students have to find ways to be accountable to themselves.”

More Reading – “While best practices for online courses encourage instructors to use multiple modes of instruction: reading, videos, websites, Prezis, et., there is no getting around having to do a lot of reading, even in the most effective and interactive professor’s online course,” added Professor Hererra. She indicated that it can be overwhelming to read all of the instructions and go through all of the documents a teacher gives students, but it is how to communicate important information. “Students who succeed in online courses read ALL of the materials the instructor provides and asks specific questions about what they don’t understand,” she added.

Professor Hererra added that parents can provide a much-needed support system for students, but they should first know what they don’t need to do:

  • Parents do not need to try to take the place of educators. If you don’t have a degree in Chemistry, please don’t feel inadequate because you can’t help your child with their homework!
  • Parents do not need to coddle their children. A college is a place where young adults become independent. You are doing your child a disservice if you return to helicopter parenting.
  • Please do not email your child’s professor for them. First, we are not legally able to share information with you without a signed FERPA form. Secondly, this is so incredibly annoying for college professors. Third, your child needs to learn how to communicate effectively and engage in their education on their own. I have stopped emailing my 5th and 3rd-grade children’s teachers for the same reason. Encourage your children to engage, but do not do it for them.
  • Don’t hover. Your child is under enough stress as it is. You may think you’re helping by forcing Johnnie to type his Composition Essay while you watch, but you’re only adding to their anxiety.

Okay then, what can you do?

  • Help your student to get organized and make a plan. A little bit of modeling goes a long way.
  • Find a time/space in your house for your child to complete their work.
  • Encourage and model strategies of effective students as listed above.
  • Know what support resources are available to students and make sure they know how to access them.
  • Be authentically interested in what your child is learning and working on. Ask questions about the course content and what they think about it.
  • Let them know that you’re stressed too and that it’s ok for them to be anxious and worried.
  • Be aware of their mental health. Sometimes some basic relaxation techniques can work, but don’t hesitate to help them find professional help. Our mental health is just as important as our physical health, especially in academics.
  • Don’t expect perfection. It’s possible for a student to earn a C and still find value in their education experience!
Additionally, Hererra added a few tips for success with online learning.
  • Be organized
    • Schedule time to complete your work and stick to it. Also, have a Plan B just in case.
    • Make “To Do” lists weekly. Know what is due when and have a plan to complete tasks.
  • Read EVERYTHING: I cannot emphasize this enough!
    • Prepare yourself for the class by reading over the syllabus. I know it’s boring, but do it anyway!
    • Figure out how your teacher prefers to communicate with students and be absolutely sure that you make it a priority to read these communications. For example, I post announcements with important information several times during the week. These announcements take the place of my in-class lectures and are critical for students.
    • Figure out how the course is organized and where your teacher posts materials for the class. The materials are not optional and are there to help you, so read/view them!
    • If your teacher assigns reading in the text, do it. I know that some texts are painfully dull, but your teacher is not trying to torture you, I promise. Plus, you paid for it, so you might as well, right?!
  • Know when to ask questions and do it often: I’m not going to lie-there are dumb questions 😉 These are questions that waste both your time and your instructor’s. In order to make the best use of everyone’s time, follow this strategy:
      • First, read through all of the materials your instructor gave you. Is the answer to your question in the class announcement, the assignment sheet, the reading your teacher assigned?
      • If you read through the material and still have the question, ask yourself if you can find the answer yourself. Is it? Googleable? Easy questions like, “what is APA format?” are Googleable questions that you can find in about 5 seconds.
      • If you have read the course materials and the question is not Googleable, now it’s time to email your teacher.
      • Here’s a link a to the handout I give to my students to help them work through the process:
  • Maintain contact and familiarity with your instructor. When communicating, remember that they are your professor AND a human being.
      • When you email your instructor, you should be courteous and detailed. Don’t say, “I don’t understand the assignment” because this is not helpful. Instead write, “I read over the assignment sheet and I’m not sure I’m headed in the right direction with my topic. I’m thinking about writing…Do you think this will work?”
      • Be mindful of your audience when emailing. You don’t have to be super formal, but remember that you are not texting your best friend either. Use complete sentences, capital letters, paragraphs- you know-the basics!
      • Never, never, never hesitate to contact your instructor. Our job is to help you succeed and answer your questions! If students don’t ask questions, teachers don’t know that they don’t understand.
      • While you should communicate frequently with your teachers, please do understand that we have lives. Give them ample time to read and respond to your email (usually 24-48 hours). If you don’t get a reply, your email may have been buried, so please resend the email if you don’t get a response (check to make sure the email address is correct first!)
      • Here’s a link to an article I share with my students:
  • Finally, be an active and engaged learner! Whether students are in the classroom or online, those who are most successful are the most active. Don’t approach your classes as a box to check off or something you have to do to “get through” college. Instead, think of each class as an opportunity to add to your knowledge base and help you to be an educated, thoughtful, and productive human being. Be curious and think critically.  Interact with the materials, your teacher, and your classmates. Remember that education is a privilege and an opportunity and that nothing is worth doing if it’s not a challenge. Think of your classes and the College as a community of learners who are all working together, even though we’re physically apart. I know that’s totally cheesy, but it’s true!
Here’s a link to a slideshow I made for my students to help them during the transition:


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