With the global coronavirus pandemic still ravaging in the US, a majority of college students are stuck with a partially or fully online timetable this fall semester. Besides losing valuable traditional student-teacher interactions that no online platform can fully recreate, learning course material online has its added obstacles, and staying engaged can be incredibly difficult. As someone who has been stuck at home since March and will be until the end of this semester, here are some tips I’ve gathered from my experiences with online classes.
1. ATTEND LECTURES
I cannot stress enough how important this is. A significant proportion of a traditional classroom’s value is derived from real time interactions: asking the professor questions, listening to your peers’ concerns, and bouncing your ideas off of other classmates. These interactions make up more of your learning than the lecture itself. Although these interactions are more constrained in the online space, it's a step up from listening to a recorded lecture. And trust me, you will spend more time watching a recorded lecture than attending the real thing because of distractions. So plan to attend online lectures when they occur, regardless of whether it's recorded or not.
2. Familiarize yourself with Zoom/your lecture platform
Whether you are using Zoom or another online video-conferencing platform, it's important to familiarize yourself with the features for class. Know how to mute and unmute yourself quickly in case you are called on by your instructor. If there are raise-hand or other reaction buttons, familiarize yourself with those so you can use them if needed at the appropriate times. Figure out how to share your screen. Zoom has a whiteboard feature under screen sharing in which users can draw using their cursor on a shared screen. Ensuring you know all the features and how to use them in your video-conferencing platform can allow for a much smoother online classroom experience.
3. Take advantage of your built-in computer features
There are a lot of features that come with Windows or Mac that can help your online learning experience smoother. If your professor shares a lot of graphs and tables during lecture, instead of frantically trying to copy everything down, take advantage of screenshots or the Snipping Tool (which takes a screenshot of a section you select on your screen). This way you can have the problem to work on your document or for you to take you time to copy onto paper. Professors also may assign group projects. It’s hard to work collaboratively if you don’t know what your groupmates are doing. A way around this is to share a Word document and use the draw feature to show your work. Now, all of you can be on the same page.
4. Create a nice Zoom-place
Many people find it easier to focus in the traditional classroom environment. However, it's nearly impossible to completely change your dorm room or room at home into a classroom. Fortunately, you can simulate the feeling of a productive environment. Invest in creating a workplace separate from your relaxation space. You can easily do this by placing your desk as far away from your bed as possible. Face away from your room and clear your desk to get rid of potential distractors. It’s a bonus if you can face a window to get nice lighting for video calls. If you are studying from home, if possible work in a room that’s not your bedroom. If you have the means you can add some extra nice touches to your workplace by investing in a laptop stand, a comfy chair, nice headphones with a mic, and webcam.
5. Experiment to find a system that works for you
Ultimately, the online learning experience will be unique to you, so experiment around and figure out what works best at the beginning of the semester so you will have a plan for your remaining online classes. Do you like taking handwritten notes while listening to lectures? Would you rather invest in a tablet with a stylus to create digital notes? Do you pay attention better by constantly changing your workplace? Try everything and see what you like most!