Synchronicity, Structure, and Hope in the New Normal

A recent cartoon in the New Yorker depicts a man and woman sitting together at their kitchen table. The woman asks the man for clarification: “Are you talking about the new normal of an hour ago, or is there a new new normal right now?”[1]

Things are moving fast. In the external unpredictability of the new new normal, all we can control is our own actions. In the case of Focus Collegiate, those actions underscore resilience and hope. This week we will examine the benefits of structure and synchronous learning as we hold hope for the Fall Semester.

Synchronicity and Structure

Distance learning can be broken down into two broad approaches: synchronous and asynchronous. In synchronous classes, teachers offer lessons to students at the same time – preferably the time the class was originally scheduled when held in-person. In asynchronous classes, the student is required to complete their studies in their own time. Both styles usually include some direct involvement from the teacher. Both styles are in play for our students.

For students who learning differently or have anxiety or depression, synchronous learning creates some of the structure they need. Meeting at regular, scheduled times makes things more predictable, balanced, and trustworthy. Asynchronous learning, on the other hand, removes some of the predictability our students have come to depend upon in the vanished in-person classroom format. Knowing, for instance, that Intro to Psych starts at 8:15 and that orchestra practice is at 1:00 creates the daily outline within which our students could find comfort in a reliable routine and sense forward momentum. 

Bessel van der Kolk, MD, Boston-based psychiatrist, author, and faculty of the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavior Medicine, suggests a direct connection between one’s sense of time and one’s sense of agency and that, “The one thing we can do about external unpredictability is to make our own life predictable.”[2]

We know that structure reduces anxiety. As so much exterior structure has disappeared, both in terms of college life and home life, students need now more than ever to find agency by organizing their interior lives. To meet that need for organization and predictability, we have pivoted to shorter, more frequent student meetings delivering our support so that our students can better structure their days and lives.

In these uncertain times our students – who often come to us lacking a certain degree of organizational capability – need more frequent support to keep them from falling behind. In our experience, we have found that regular, frequent check-ins keep students on task much more dependably than a single one-hour coaching session per week can. Weekly meetings tend to spend too much time reworking the week’s failures rather than moving ahead.

Because our student support services delivery model is responsive, individualized, and based on student-centered goals, we have been able to convert to a virtual platform fairly easily meeting student need for accountability and a workable framework for learning. In essence, we are doing what we’ve always done, supporting learning based on student goals, but because we are flexible, we can better respond to student needs at any one moment which will ultimately help them survive the semester.

Hope: Fall Registration & Summer Cohort

We are encouraged to see that colleges are starting to book fall registration appointments! Universities are starting to ramp up their registrations for the fall and we are working right along with our students to join in this hopeful exercise.

We’re also optimistic about our Summer Cohort: continues to be strong.