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Balancing online studies and farm life takes planning

  • 4.5 min read

Being at home as a student is different than on-campus studies. However, it’s perhaps no less unique than being a post-secondary student for the first time.

How will a student manage farm work and academic studies? It’s going to take planning and hard work.

The number one way to guarantee success when turning living space into a lecture hall is to speak up, according to Elaine Froese, a farm family coach in Boissevain, Man.

“It really boils down to managing expectations,” Froese says. “We are all unique and different, even in the same family.”

After mediating hundreds of farm families over the years, Froese knows the power of speech and how requests are made are key to families successfully working together.

For example, if students find the farm demands are taking away from class time, they could begin a discussion at home with, "Can we talk about work hours? I need to reduce my time on the farm with more time on my courses to be ready for midterms. I’m feeling really stressed right now. I don’t want to disappoint you, yet I really need to block more time to study. What works for you?”

Create a schedule and routine

When working and studying from home, create a clear schedule that does not change too often, Froese encourages. Be honest with yourself and what the expectations are from both an academic and a farm perspective.

“It’s important to have that routine, so you have standard blocks of time,” says Froese. “You can’t combine until 11 a.m. anyway, so, if school is your priority, have a routine for good rest, studying, then some farm work and maybe more studying.”

That up-front approach works well when dealing with professors, too. Froese suggests students send instructors notes about themselves, such as how they learn best and what makes a positive learning environment at home. If students don’t communicate with the instructors, then instructors won’t be able to help the student.

She points out that farming is a unique industry with simultaneous challenges from weather, revenue, debt load, lack of labour, poor patterns of conflict and more.

"You put all those things together, and then add the extra stress of having an able-bodied worker on your farm who's committing to getting an education. There's always going to be this underlying tension unless you bring it to light and address it," Froese says.

Speak up about any barriers to learning

Deborah Landry, a university instructor of 10 years at Carleton and the University of Ottawa, feels the same way.

“Institutions are very student-focused,” Landry says. “There’s nothing wrong with encouraging students to be self-advocates and speak up soon if there are barriers to learn with the technology.”

Landry says even though studying from home can be a major challenge, an open line of communication between students and teachers is vital.

“I feel optimistic that even though it’s not going to be smooth, there will be a line of communication so that students will learn something and that the teachers aren’t so overwhelmed with the technology that they’re not able to do what they’re hired to do,” Landry says.

Remember - the first year is tough

Remember the first year of post-secondary is always a slog, no matter where the lecture halls are located.

She urges students to remember the first year of post-secondary is always a slog, no matter where the lecture halls are located.

“Regardless of where you’re learning, it’s important to remember that,” Landry says.

She suggests students create a no-distraction zone and request family honour that agreement. Another key for students, especially farm kids, with shifting seasonal jobs at the farm, is to have a weekly check-in. Commit to these because a workflow that made sense for the first month will be thrown out the window when it’s time for midterms or finals.

Use support networks to your favour

While at-home learning may not be an ideal situation, in many cases, it may work out for the best, Landry says.

Countless times, she has seen rural students struggle with in-person settings because they are often separated from tight-knit families and communities after moving to an urban environment for the first time. She thinks distance learning may level the playing field for farm kids.

“There’s a good chance being surrounded by family and community when you work through (your studies) should not necessarily be seen as a bad thing. This might be a really good thing for rural learners,” Landry says.

Get involved and engage in the process

Both Froese and Landry champion proactive participation from students. Since much of that only takes place in the classroom, students will need to find ways to get involved even if it's a digital one.

“Engage whenever you can in the online forums, or any online engagement with peers and professors,” says Landry. “Alienation from this learning practice is probably one of the biggest downfalls. If you don’t feel engaged or part of the learning process, you will not be interested in the topic. It doesn’t matter how interesting that textbook looks - you won’t open it because you don’t feel connected to that community.”

Above all, Landry reminds students they shouldn’t look at being at home as something that will inhibit goals or be a barrier.

“There is nothing about this situation that is going to stop anyone from achieving whatever goals that they want to achieve, it’s just changed the way that we’re going to do this,” she says.

Bottom line

When it comes to student success while living at home, students should be proactive and let those around them know their needs – from family and friends to instructors and peers. Create no distraction zones and study times, hold weekly family meetings to review student needs and schedules and review family expectations. Above all, students should engage as much as possible with online forums, peers and professors to create connections.

Article by: Trevor Bacque