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If you have been hearing the phrase “Zoom University,” referring to the popular online meeting platform that has largely replaced the typical college experience this year, then you are not alone! For many college students, they will be taking some online courses this semester as universities grapple with providing education during a pandemic. According to Business Insider, 8% of colleges were planning on having online courses only, while other colleges were planning for in-person classes or a combination of the two as late as July. Many colleges have changed course, however, as the return to campus has led to an uptick of cases. Notably, according to Insider, the University of Notre Dame suspended classes for two weeks after 146 positive cases of coronavirus, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill moved to online learning after the university’s COVID-19 rate increased by almost 11% in one week. As of writing this, the University of Akron is still offering in-person, online and hybrid courses. 

Online classes, however, are definitely not for everyone. There can be a lack of structure. You don’t get the same camaraderie with classmates and relationship with the teacher. It can be harder to ask questions and understand the material without in-person feedback. Focusing can be harder when you are not in a classroom setting. Technology itself is a huge issue. Not everyone can afford computers or the internet, and even if you can surmount these obstacles, navigating video sharing platforms and troubleshooting microphone and webcam errors is another obstacle entirely. And these are only a few of the concerns students have. 

I am lucky to have an environment that allows me to focus on my studies and access to a laptop and high-speed internet, but online classes are still really difficult. I was taking online classes pre-pandemic, and here are five tips that I recommend to make online learning better this fall.

Make a Schedule

It can be so easy right now to not have to worry about scheduling. You may still be working or have an internship with set hours, but if your classes are asynchronous, then you have the freedom and flexibility to work on them whenever. This is a major trap of online learning. You think you have all the time in the world for a weekly assignment in each of your classes, but before you know it, it’s Sunday night and you have to learn all the material and apply it before midnight. To stay ahead of the curve, make a schedule. I like to use a planner to keep track of assignments, and I carve out time to work on weekly tasks. For example, every Tuesday, I take two hours to watch my Women’s Studies lecture and complete the associated assignment.

Stay On Top of Your Email

When you are not in class being told the due dates of your assignments, it can be so easy to forget about them. With professors relying more than ever on emails and learning platforms like Brightspace or Springboard, it is so important to keep checking your emails regularly. I recommend having your emails on your phone, so you can get updates immediately. If that is too stressful for you, make sure you check your emails in the morning and in the evening, daily. Some learning platforms, like Brightspace, allow you to get text or email notifications about assignments and upcoming due dates. This can be an easy way to stay on top of your work. 

Go to Class

Go to class!!! If you have synchronous or live online classes, it is so important that you go. While it may not seem as tangible and thus important as in-person classes, it counts just the same, financially and academically. Also, if you need more help or just want to build rapport with your professors, check out going to online office hours or any class meetings your professors may be holding. It is really important to stay engaged. 

Do Not Procrastinate

Online classes provide an opportunity to work around your schedule and to work ahead. You can do assignments before work, in the bathtub, at the gym, while making breakfast, or at 3 am in the morning when creativity strikes. But most importantly, without an in-person class to get prepared for, it’s on you to stay accountable and get your work done. Procrastination is definitely a hard habit to beat, but breaking down assignments, making a schedule and keeping track of impending deadlines can make this easier.

Group Chat with Classmates

You don’t realize what you have until it's gone. While classmates can detract from learning whether by arguing with the teacher (or each other) or by asking questions that have already been answered (twice!), you often don’t realize how much having classmates adds to the college experience. Whether you are just comparing notes about the class, asking a quick question, or just reaching out to vent, you rely on your classmates more than you know. Making a GroupMe or group chat with some of your classmates can be really beneficial to answering questions and receiving support. 

Emily Janikowski, otherwise known as Em, can be found usually lurking in the depths of the Polsky building as a writing tutor, and when she isn't there, she is curled up in bed binge watching Law & Order SVU. Her passion lies in changing the world, and she hopes to accomplish this through majoring in social work.
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