As this week's Spring Break approached at the school where I am teaching an online course this semester, I was torn between advising students to take a well-earned breather or to keep pushing forward with their projects because there is so much left to accomplish this term. There are benefits to both taking a break and working ahead, as well as additional activities to consider when planning how to spend this time.
Most online schools, especially those operating with accelerated terms, won't have a traditional Spring Break in their academic calendars, but they will recognize an occasional long holiday weekend and provide brief breaks between term start dates. So how can online students, many of whom are managing multiple roles and priorities related to school, work, and family, balance taking a break while also taking the opportunity to get ahead? Planning your activities can help you stay on track and find that balance.
Catching Up and Getting Ahead
School breaks, in which you aren't required to attend meetings or participate in online activities, can seem like a gift of time if you are behind in your course work. The University of Guelph's A Guide to Time Management: 20 Ways for Playing Catch-up, lists specific strategies "for how to cope, gathered from students who've been there and survived." Here are a few to get you started:
- Seek out guidance from learning professionals at your school through learning services centers offering resources related to time and stress management, as well as academic advising and counseling.
- Ask for help when you don't understand course content or need more clarification for assignments. Consult with your instructor and classmates for more information and suggestions about moving forward.
- Prioritize what you have to do and establish goals for productivity. "Scrutinize each task to determine those with the highest importance. Ask yourself 'If I only have time to finish one thing on the list, what should it be?'"
A break may also provide an opportunity to get ahead in your course work if you are already on schedule with assignments and participation. Working too far ahead may be detrimental, or even prohibited, if course materials are not available in advance. What can you do during a school break to prepare for the remainder of the term?
- Reading ahead is a good use of your time. Take a look at the chapters and articles that are assigned in the coming weeks and get started. This may also be a great time to try out a new reading or note-taking strategy.
- Review your course syllabus for what's left of the term after the break and reassess where you are and what you need to do to once the course resumes. Having a renewed awareness of the course schedule will help you prepare to be productive.
Benefits of Taking a Break
While you may be motivated to maximize a school break with more work, consider the option of actually taking time off. If you are on schedule with your assignments, taking a true break from a strict study schedule may be beneficial and even increase your overall productivity.
Have you been ignoring your personal relationships while in school? Online programs often require this kind of sacrifice in the short-term. Your friends and family may appreciate your attention and reconnection with scheduled activities during a break. Downtime may also mean putting the focus on you:
- Revisit one of the interests that have been set aside while you are in school. Select an activity you haven't done in a while (e.g., travel, reading for fun, a favorite hobby) and make time to participate. This can be a reward for all of the work you've accomplished so far and help you feel refreshed when you return to your courses.
- Unplug and get outside during your break. As an online student you are likely spending a lot of time in front of a computer and at a desk. Getting some exercise and time away from your electronic devices is important to your overall health and well-being.
- Get some sleep. This is something we tend to cut back on when we are over tasked, but we can only go without enough sleep for so long before it begins to negatively affect our work. The New York Times reported a study last year finding that eight hours of sleep was important for cognitive functioning. Use your school break to adjust your schedule and get the sleep you need.
Explore Learning Alternatives
If you want to stay active during your break, but also move your focus away from school, take a look at some of the alternatives available. US News suggests three options for spending your spring break wisely:
- Short-term employment can help you financially, and opportunities are often available during holidays and school breaks.
- Volunteering allows you to provide a service within your community and may also lead to new knowledge and skills, as well as networking opportunities.
- Workplace shadowing may also be an option. Contact members of your existing learning and career networks, and your school's alumni programs, to explore opportunities to meet and possibly work with professionals in your field of interest during your break.
Keep in mind that your time during a school break is limited. Be realistic about what you can expect accomplish. In an #IOLchat session during the 2011-2012 holidays, participants recommended setting specific goals for the break including time for both work and play. Creating daily to-do lists and blocking time for family and friends are just two techniques for staying on track with your plans.
How are you spending your course breaks? Share your tips with us here!