Virtual Learning 101

If you’re anything like the majority of the students around the world right now, you’re doing your best to ace a full course load of classes, except with a fun and exciting twist: all of our classes are online! Many students have been tackling the world of online learning for years, due to its unique accessibility, and they can be the first ones to tell you that this world also holds its own unique challenges. Let this article serve as your personal unofficial guide to navigating online courses! 

laptop with gmail1.Communication 

Communicate with your professors as often as you feel you need to, or at least once a week. You may find yourself feeling pushy or needy, especially if you are not in the habit of communicating with your professors outside of class time, but remember you don’t have in-person class anymore! This communication can come about in many different ways.

skype open on the phoneIf your professor is live streaming lectures or labs on a platform that allows questions, you can ask questions during your scheduled class period. If your lectures will be pre-recorded, email or send a message in your online forum such as “blackboard” or “moodle.” If the forum you will be turning assignments in on has a comments option or you will be emailing assignments directly to your professor, drop a note in with the assignment. Many professors also provide a phone number that they may be contacted at. If you need or prefer voice communication, shoot your professor an email to set up an appointment to converse over the phone.

This physical time away from school is not a vacation from our responsibilities as students to complete our work and continue learning nor is it a vacation for our professors away from their responsibilities as academic resources. We should all do our best to respect each other’s time and energy during this difficult time, but your desire to succeed in your courses and the communication needed to do so is not a burden or an intrusion. 

 

2. Time Management

    You may feel like you have all the time in the world now that you don’t have to be in class. If you’re anything like me, this thought process is the beginning of a dangerous path to procrastination and overlooked deadlines. Without as many directly set times to spend on each course, you are left to make your own schedule and be aware of when each course will require you to complete a task. 

a photo of an open plannerOne of the biggest ways that I try to stay on top of my courses is to check on each class daily. This means that I check my email, the module for any class that is a virtual learning program (moodle/blackboard etc.), or any other way I can expect to receive information about a given course. I  actually do this EVERY DAY and write down any new deadlines on a calendar or list in a notebook. Your professors can add material or assignments any time of day within the blink of an eye. If you wait until the end of the week to see what's waiting for you, you may find deadlines that have come and gone and/or a pile of work to do. 

calendarAnother time management tool for online courses is to pretend you still have class at certain times. For example, I will “schedule” all my classes at times that work for me, preferably spread throughout the weekdays, and dedicate this “class time” to working on that course’s assignments or watching pre-recorded lectures. The key to this is being honest with yourself and your work style. If you don’t know what that looks like for you, then this is a great opportunity to experiment a little!

 For example, if you have three courses, you may prefer to schedule work time on each course for three hours on one day of each week. You may also prefer to work on each class daily but for forty five minutes at a time. The time of day is also up to you! If you want to wake up at 8 AM, start your day, and get it all over with, go for it! On the other hand, you may want to work for an hour in the morning and then again at 2 PM. You can even schedule all of your class time at 1 AM if you’re a night owl. It's up to you, but it is so helpful to have a plan that you can stick to. 

paper and pencil3. Self Assessment 

    You have probably heard it said before: “You are responsible for your own learning.” However, this is true for many of us now more than ever. With the suddenness of this switch to a fully online format your professors may not be offering formal or informal quizzes like they would have in class. If they do, it’s easier to think of them as open-book since you have the entire internet at your fingertips and nobody is watching you. Some of your courses may even be foregoing exams entirely or allowing open book exams. 

girl readingNo matter how you will be assessed in your course online, it is important to know where your skill and knowledge stands in regards to the course objectives. If you are in a position of pass/fail where you will be receiving no quizzes or exams and are only completing assignments, your grade may not be affected even if you do not keep up with what you are supposed to be learning. You may be okay with this if the course is not in your major program. Nonetheless, I do caution you to consider the other times during your college career, and especially beyond, that you might be expected to present/use the expertise you were expected to gain during the course in question. If this course was only ever supposed to be an “easy A,” then by all means treat it as such, you deserve it! 

woman biting pencil while sitting on chair in front of computer during daytimeHowever, if you will still be having proctored exams or will be expected to skillfully use this course’s knowledge in your career, then you may find yourself invested in learning what the course expects of you. There are a few simple ways to do this. 

One way is to reflect after each assignment lecture as well as have a self-instructed open note quiz to assess what you need to review (i.e. what you would not successfully be able to reproduce on a hypothetical exam). Then, write it down right. Keep a running list and review these topics weekly. Don’t forget to ask your professor for clarification if needed.

phoneAnother way to self-assess is to find sources exterior to your course for further learning. First, ensure it is a source you trust in your subject, and then watch enrichment videos, read articles, or take other professors' old exams for practice. 

chalkboardThird, you can try to teach someone else, either in person, if they are quarantined with you, or over the phone. Let your “student” ask you questions. The more you teach the more you can gauge how well you really know the material.

I know we are all going to do our best this term. Remember that your best one day may look different than your best the next, and that is okay! Be patient with yourself and others. Let’s rock Spring 2020!