Student Voices
Aug. 24 2020

Adapting to the Online Education Environment

Second year MPH student Sila Adhiningrat offers tips and advice to new and returning students for how to thrive in online and remote learning environments during COVID-19 and beyond.

The start of the 2020 academic year will look vastly different than any years past. Across the country, elementary schools, high schools, colleges, and graduate schools have restructured their curriculum to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health is no different. Earlier this year, the Columbia Mailman School announced that they would conduct Fall 2020 master’s courses online, with room for hybrid opportunities. A big question on all of our minds is how the online and hybrid class format of the Fall 2020 semester will affect our learning experiences and professional opportunities. As current and incoming public health graduate students, we must be active in our efforts to constantly inform ourselves and understand the importance of pursuing public health education in this pivotal moment in history.

Sila Adhiningrat, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, online education Though the COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented changes to our world, the changes made to the online public health education environment can serve as an opportunity to build personal and professional strength. Studying public health principles and skills at a time when public health professionals are translating those principles into action by analyzing epidemiologic data and observing rising health disparities is a learning opportunity in itself. As we learn more about how classes, jobs, and vital aspects of healthcare can be conducted remotely through online modalities, we can adapt the same resources and platforms to reach vulnerable populations in our research.

The constantly changing climate of this pandemic can train us to be better at adapting our learning and working styles to fit any given crisis or situation in public health.

Although classes for Fall 2020 may have been adapted to an online curriculum, this semester can still be a rewarding educational experience. Take advantage of this learning opportunity by staying engaged with the course material and being active in the online classroom. Here are some helpful tips to make the best use of the online education environment:

  • Set a daily routine. Exercising, drinking a cup of coffee, or doing yoga are all great activities to add to your morning or evening routines so you can achieve some sense of regularity whilst attending your online classes, studying, or working.
  • Find a quiet space. Choose a quiet corner of your home to study and attend online classes each day. Make this area a sanctuary of peace so you can concentrate and focus on work without any outside distractions.
  • Join the conversation. Attend as many workshops or webinars that are available from your school and department. Attending these seminars are a great way to feel involved, engage with other peers, and learn something new!
  • Connect with others. Everyone is in the same boat, so it can be beneficial to reach out to fellow students to create study teams or social hours. Talking to other students will help to make online learning a more positive and social experience.
  • Take advantage of the many resources at Columbia Mailman. The Office of Career Services, Office of Education, Student Health Services, and other offices are there to help you navigate and become part of the Mailman community, and they're always available through email and office hours. It can be hard to feel connected to the School in a virtual space but remember that these resources are always there for you.
  • Reach out to professors. It is important to take advantage of your graduate education and to learn from as many perspectives as possible. Your professors are there to help you understand public health concepts as well as help you navigate through your program, so reach out for advice, questions, or any other concerns.
  • Utilize teaching assistants. Teaching assistants are hired to be a helpful and approachable resource. As fellow students, they have gone through the same academic struggles that you are going through and have plenty of knowledge and advice to give you on virtually any topic related to the School, research, practica, and more. Make sure to reach out to your TAs with any questions you have about classes or the program in general.
  • Share what you learn. Oftentimes, I find myself applying the public health concepts and skills I learn in class to current health-related events I see on the news. Sharing the public health knowledge you learn in your classes to your family and friends can help others contextualize current events and apply public health principles in their own lives.
  • Stay healthy. Eating well, getting 6 to 8 hours of rest each night, and drinking water are all important for our bodies to stay physically healthy. Our brains can only work at their best when we are physically healthy.
  • Be kind to yourself and practice self-care. We are living through a global pandemic and it is okay to feel stress, anxiety, and other mental distress symptoms. Take the time to separate yourself from academic obligations so you can feel your best when you come to class ready to learn.

Sila S. Adhiningrat is a 2021 MPH candidate in the Department of Sociomedical Sciences. She received her BA in Public Health Policy from the University of California, Irvine.