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6 Things I Learned From a Virtual Spring Semester (To Help You Navigate the New School Term)

I definitely felt a little uncertain and nervous when I decided to take online classes during the Spring 2020 term, since most of us did not know what to expect from an all-online school term. However, today I will be sharing some of the things I have learned over the last term that can make your virtual Fall term easier to navigate. 

Make your own class schedule

Regardless of whether your department or professors decide to offer live lectures or your classes are mostly asynchronous, aiming to make your own class schedule at the beginning of the term will make it easier to structure your week and study effectively. One of the things most students noticed during the Spring term is that the number of assignments, weekly quizzes, etc. for a given course has increased. In order to keep up with the increased workload, you can set certain days with specific courses based on your assessment deadlines. 

Attend every live component offered in the course if possible

Depending on the time zone you are currently in, you might have limited ability to attend any live parts of the course you’re taking. However, if your course has virtual lectures, discussion sessions, or office hours, try to attend these as much as possible. This might not only help you better understand the course content, but having a chance to meet and interact with the instructors and other people in the course is a critical way to make connections. Especially given that you might not get a chance to make these in-person connections anytime over the coming months.

Make study groups
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Reaching out to others taking the course and arranging small, supportive, and effective study groups is more important than ever. It can become really easy to feel isolated and unsure about where to seek help when you are struggling with some course content or assignments. Arranging virtual study sessions is an effective way to keep up with assignment deadlines, discuss course material, and get help when questions arise. However, make sure that everyone in the group is respectful and supportive of one another. And remember to be very careful about school policies regarding academic integrity. 

Take notes

Yes, even though most of the course content might be delivered as PowerPoint slides, lengthy PDF documents, or audio lectures, you still need to take notes. Although the decision of whether to take hand-written or typed notes depends generally on personal preference, it might be more convenient to organize and use typed notes when the course material is presented digitally. Since most of the professors might choose to make the class notes available for everyone, it can feel like simply downloading and reading through those files is effective enough. However, some students, including myself, have noticed that the ability to learn and remember course content has gotten slightly challenging when audio recordings and lengthy readings replace classroom interaction. That’s why creating your own notes on key parts of each class will be helpful with both remembering the course content better and preparing for exams later in the term.

Study effectively for the open-book exams

Studying effectively for online open-book exams might be trickier than studying for regular exams. Don’t get comfortable with the preparation process just because you will be allowed to have access to resources during the exam. The open book exams are usually structured differently than closed-book exams considering the very fact that students will have access to all the course materials. The specifics about the structure of the exam will likely depend on each course, however, there is generally a tighter time limit or questions that require original, more detailed answers. Furthermore, if you have not reviewed the class materials prior to the exam, the time pressure will make it more challenging to find the appropriate source you might need to answer a question. If you are allowed to access course materials, then make sure to organize everything you might need, including your lecture notes, neatly. 

Take care of your physical and mental wellbeing

One of the disadvantages of studying and working from home is that the workday has become longer and we might feel the pressure to get back to emails and tasks almost immediately, regardless of the time of the day. On the flip side, since most of us will not be leaving our houses and commuting to campus to attend classes, it can feel like you have more availability during the day, leading to procrastination on certain tasks. To prevent this from happening, try to maintain a healthy sleep and eating schedule. Make sure that sitting in front of your screen studying and doing homework doesn’t lead to unhealthy snacking or skipping lunch/dinner breaks. Considering that the time we will be spending in front of a computer has increased even more (including for work-related or social and study meetings), try to find activities and hobbies that will give you a chance to get away from your screen a couple of hours each day.

Hey, there! I am a 4th year Honours Psychology and Economics student at the University of Waterloo. I love watching movies, cooking and photography.
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