Tips for virtual learners as the summer semester starts

Penn State World Campus's advising director shares advice for students learning online, remotely during Covid-19 pandemic

Dawn Coder is the director of academic advising and student disability services for Penn State World Campus. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State World Campus’s academic advising office is offering tips to all Penn State students as the University community prepares to start the summer semester virtually in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The University announced in April that the virtual delivery of courses would extend into the summer semester, which includes the Maymester session that began May 11 and two six-week sessions that begin May 18 and July 1. While the plan calls for online instruction for Summer Session II, the University is preparing in case health dynamics shift and students could safely return to campuses for in-person instruction during that session.

Penn State summer courses are being offered through a mix of asynchronous online and synchronous remote courses.

Dawn Coder, director of Penn State World Campus’s academic advising and student disability services, talked about a variety of ways students can be successful in this setting. She compiled the tips from her staff of undergraduate advisers, who work with about 10,000 undergrads pursuing their degrees online through Penn State World Campus.

Get organized

Students can start to feel motivated and keep the momentum by organizing their course work. Coder highlights several ways:

  • Create a schedule – whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly. For example, students may want to block off the same time each week for taking a course’s weekly quizzes. Or they may want to devote mornings to completing their readings and the afternoons to writing. Breaking down coursework like this can help them see progress as they check off their tasks.  
  • A schedule can help create a routine, another helpful motivator. The routine can also include getting up at the same time each day and getting dressed to start the day.
  • A devoted study space can train the brain to focus in that environment. Perhaps it’s a desk in a bedroom or the family dining room table. Some Penn State World Campus students find additional motivation by decorating their study spaces with Penn State sports gear, framed acceptance letters, inspirational quotes and more.
  • Break up the day. Go somewhere else, away from school work, even to a different part of the same room. Don’t sit at a desk for eight hours straight – everyone can use a few moments to step away. A break can help with patience in dealing with children, family and siblings, too.


Penn State students have a variety of resources at their disposal. Coder encourages all students to know what they have and use them:

  • Students should make sure they have the technology they need. While it might be feasible to take a quiz in Canvas on a cellphone, that cellphone may not be ideal to complete all the assignments and tasks on their to-do lists. They should also check to make sure they have the software and web browser, including the most up-to-date versions, necessary to complete their work. Students with technology needs should contact their academic adviser.
  • Know instructors’ expectations for online or remote learners, which can be different from a student who attends class in a classroom or lab. Be proactive and ask if it’s not specified in the syllabus.
  • Discuss individual resource needs with academic advisers, who can help direct students to the resources they may not know existed.
  • Stay connected to their peers. Students attending one of the campuses around Pennsylvania likely developed friends and colleagues through classes, clubs, from their hometowns and more. These connections helped them stay motivated and create separation from school.

Accommodations for students

Students who may be experiencing difficulties in their learning may want to speak with a disabilities specialist about accommodations. Terry Watson, assistant director of academic advising and student disability services for Penn State World Campus, has provided these guidelines.

Students currently receiving accommodations may need to contact their disability specialist to discuss updates to their accommodation letter if they experience any of the following situations:

  • New barriers have emerged. These may result from course design in Canvas or the ways courses are taught online or remotely.
  • Changes to the student’s life situation impact his or her mental health, which could negatively impact course work.
  • New diagnoses have come to light, but because of the pandemic, treatment has been postponed or delayed. The lack of access to a counselor or therapist can bring on new issues.

If a student feels they are not receiving necessary accommodations, they may contact student disability services for any of these issues:

  • Difficulty focusing, paying attention or understanding course material.
  • Organizing academic work, such as taking notes, studying or writing papers, has become more difficult than they were previously.

Visit the Penn State World Campus website for more information about learning online.

Last Updated May 19, 2020