Remote Learning Tips for Students

The following is addressed to students; instructors may feel free to use any of the language on this page as part their introductory course materials.

We’re in an unprecedented situation. The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted normal activities, routines, relationships, and the work of learning. Your faculty member is acutely aware of this, and has been working with professional staff in a number of departments at Harvard to prepare themselves for this abrupt change. You are likely feeling sad, anxious, and frustrated. They are, too. Give yourself some time to feel what you’re feeling. Take moments for some self-care, whatever that looks like for you. Understand that this is new territory for many of your faculty, and be kind to them as well.

Three things will help you be a successful language learner in a remote instructional situation. They are communication, time management, and organization. Let’s take them one by one:


1. Communication:

Communication with your instructor and other students is going to be crucial to getting you through the rest of the semester. Be proactive in reaching out if you don’t understand an assignment, cannot find posted materials, or are concerned about your ability to submit work. We suggest downloading and installing the Canvas Student app for your smartphone. It’s free and available in the Android and Apple app stores. When you install it, enable push notifications. That way, if something changes in your Canvas shell, or your instructor makes an announcement, you won’t have to go looking for it.

Familiarize yourself with Zoom. Your instructor will invite you to participate in class meetings, individual or small group instruction, and speaking assessments via this tool. Here are some tips to making sure that you have a successful experience with Zoom:

  • Make sure that you have a quiet space in which to work. Ideally, you want to be in some place free of distractions (people walking through, pets, loud noises). Spaces that are not full of hard surfaces will be better than those that are, since sound will bounce less, and there will be fewer echoes that your microphone will pick up.

  • Always use at least a set of earbuds. Working with laptop or computer speakers and an open microphone can cause feedback that will distract other people in the session. If you have a gaming headset with a microphone, use that.

  • Always test your audio (mic and speakers or headphones) prior to each session. The “up” arrow next to the microphone icon at the lower left of your Zoom screen will show you options for input and output. Make sure that you have the correct devices selected.

  • Light your face with a desk lamp or other lighting source, and try not to sit in a position that has you backlit.

  • Make use of the chat feature to ask questions during a class session, if your instructor approves of this approach. It can be hard to take turns in a Zoom meeting with a number of participants.

  • Log into the meeting a few minutes beforehand if you can. This will give you time to make sure that you’re correctly set up, and the group won’t need to spend instructional time dealing with technical issues.

  • Zoom is going to experience pressure on its ability to handle video, and so will your wi-fi network. If you can, use an Ethernet cable to connect your computer to your cable modem. If using wi-fi, consider turning off your video if you don’t need it for an activity.

  • If there’s a presentation going on, mute your microphone so that the presenter doesn’t get interrupted accidentally.

  • Wear appropriate clothing, as though this were an in-person class.

2. Time management:

  • Deadlines may be fluid, or “soft” in the sense that your faculty member may accept late work. Communicate with them ahead of time to make sure that they’re aware of any issues that may prevent timely submission of your work for the course.

  • Use a calendar. Print the week’s events and deadlines, and put it where you can see it easily.

  • Even if all assignments for a course are due on a single day during the week (Friday, for example) make sure that you spend time every day with the materials, and space your work over the week; this will help ensure that you’re not overwhelmed the night before a deadline.

  • Set aside a scheduled time every day for academic work, if you can do so. A routine will help you succeed in your course, and will keep you occupied while you are at home.

3. Organization:

  • If you can, set up a space for you to work in. Make it your “office” for the duration of the semester. It should be quiet, free of distractions, and someplace you enjoy being. When you’re in your office, it’s work.

  • Google docs are a great tool for drafting your compositions and essays. Save your files there, rather than on your computer’s hard drive. That way, if something happens to your computer, your work isn’t lost.

  • If your personal computer isn’t set up for typing accented characters or the writing system your language uses, take a look at for tips on how to produce Latin characters with accents. Learning a language that doesn’t use Latin characters? Google “[language] input method [your operating system]” where the language is the language you’re learning and the operating system is that of your computer. Or contact us at

Please contact the Language Center staff at with your concerns or questions. We’re here to help.