It’s September 2020. There are a lot of… Things happening in the world, and as a result, school looks different for a lot of students. Some are completing all of their education virtually for the first time, while others are doing a “hybrid” of online and in-person classes. Even for those who are learning face-to-face have to make accommodations for classmates who aren’t able to do the same.
It’s a very different world. Being in school was already stressful enough, and now we’ve got to deal with this too? I don’t blame you if you’re nervous. And for those who had a challenging adjustment from in-person to online classes last spring, you’re probably wondering how on earth you’re going to manage another semester like this.
I have good news though: It is possible to be a successful student in cyberspace. I’m no expert, but I did attend an online school from when I was six years old until I graduated high school at eighteen, and I think I turned out okay (though my parents may beg to differ). I picked up on a few tricks along the way, and in light of this new and very unique school year starting up, I thought I’d share some of them.
1) Find a workspace that suits you
If the idea of sitting in a classroom for several hours a day makes your skin crawl, now’s your chance to make your learning environment more suited to you. That doesn’t mean just laying in bed and listening to your classes (and accidentally dozing off while your instructor rambles about Paradise Lost). You should find (or make!) a workspace where you can be productive and comfortable.
Consider ambiance, too. If you’re someone who works best in silence, it can be hard to concentrate in a house full of people. Consider buying some cheap earplugs or investing in noise-cancelling headphones. If you have the opposite problem, websites like Coffitivity create the atmosphere of a busy coffee shop or cafe. You could also make a “work” playlist of music that helps you focus.
2) Get away from your computer/desk/workspace when you can
Even if your workspace is comfortable, it’s a good idea to get a change of scenery regularly. This is especially important if you’re spending a lot of your time staring at a computer screen, because spoiler alert, that’s not good for you. If you have the chance to move, even just temporarily, and complete an assignment the old fashioned way, take advantage of it.
3) Make time to go outside and/or get moving
Speaking of which, make sure you go outside! Even if you don’t consider yourself an “outdoorsy” person, spending a few minutes in the fresh air and sunlight when possible will do you a lot of good. For a lot of us, this will be especially important in colder months when the “winter blues” start to set in.
4) Get rid of distractions
This is a hard one for a lot of us. When we’re learning at home, our distractions are all around us… including the biggest one: the internet. If you find yourself getting distracted by checking your Twitter feed or playing a flash game from when you were a kid, consider installing a browser extension like Leechblock. I use it on my personal computer to block out certain times of day when I can’t use social media, and it helps me be more productive.
If your schedule is more flexible, you could try something like the Pomodoro Timer. It will help you separate your work into smaller segments with short breaks in between so the work doesn’t feel as daunting and your less likely to get distracted
5) Be proactive
This goes for any other school year, of course, but it’s particularly vital when it comes to online learning. Most online classrooms – even if they use webcams – make it challenging for an instructor to “read the room” like they do face-to-face. In other words, teachers might not see the confused look on your face as they explain trigonometry, so always ask questions if you’re feeling lost.
And if any of your instructors offer virtual office hours, I highly suggest you make use of them. Even if you don’t have a “big question,” you’re better off asking. Plus, it will give you a chance to interact with your instructor more one-on-one, and it shows that you’re engaged in learning the material. It never hurts to get to know your teachers a little better!
6) Learn how to troubleshoot
Like anything with technology, something is usually bound to go wrong. Sometimes it’s your fault, sometimes it’s not. Either way, if you can come up with some steps to “troubleshoot” problems, you can probably avoid a lot of frustration.
This also just means finding solutions for the random things that don’t work quite right. For example, if your professor uploads a document for you to read and you can’t access it, you should start with letting them know. But in the meantime, is there another way for you to access the reading? Does your school offer any resources, or can you access any through a local library?
7) Make friends (and get in touch with them)
Again, this is a good tip in general, but it helps a lot with online classes. You don’t have to be BFFs with all of your classmates, but find a few that you can exchange phone numbers or instagram usernames with so that you can get in touch with them in case things go sideways. If your computer explodes while you’re supposed to be in class, you can message one of your classmates to have them let the instructor know, or you can ask your friends questions if you don’t understand an assignment. Having options is always a plus.
8) Be gracious
Above everything else on this list be gracious and kind to the people you’re interacting with. This includes your peers, your instructors, and anyone else (tech people, administrators, etc.).
This isn’t a situation that a lot of people expected, let alone were prepared for. For most of us, our instructors are learning how to manage online learning at the same time we are. Yes, I know how frustrating it can be to watch your professors struggle to unmute themselves on Zoom, but please be patient with them (and help them out if you can! I’m sure they’d appreciate it).
Everyone – teachers and students – have something different happening on their side of the computer screen. Things will be challenging, but instead of getting frustrated with each other, let’s be patient and understanding. The situation might not be ideal, but we can still make the best of it by being kind and gracious.