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5 Ways to Stay Engaged in Online Courses

Let's face it: online courses are the reality we were not expecting. I know this is not how I imagined the beginning of my senior year would be, with my entire schedule being virtual. However, that's where we're at right now and it's important to make the most of your classes, regardless of whether they're online! Let me also point out that I think my university made the right call by pushing classes online, it's safer and more accessible for everyone right now. That being said, online courses operate completely differently from in person courses, so it can be quite the learning curve to adjust to an online schedule. Here are my top 5 lessons from the first week of classes to help you stay productive and motivated!

Make a Schedule and Stick to It

Most online courses follow one of two formats: synchronous, meaning you need to be online at a certain time to watch and participate in a live lecture, or asynchronous and structured around doing things at your own pace. My schedule has mostly synchronous courses, but even with do-it-yourself courses I find it helpful to block out time in my planner that I'm going to dedicate to a particular course, reading, or lecture. This helps keep me accountable, because without a planner I would procrastinate and push things off. Sticking to a routine gives you some of the stability you get when you have to attend classes in a certain place, even though right now that place might be your bed. 

Keep Your Camera on & Participate in Live Lectures

If you have a live lecture, and feel comfortable doing so, I find it incredibly helpful to turn my camera on. For in person classes, you usually can't get away with staying on your phone for most of the lecture, and you will feel guilted by your professor or fellow classmates if you do. You also have the benefit of seeing everyone else stay focused and take notes to help keep you on task. At home, with no one to do that, it can be all too easy to pull your phone out and start scrolling through social media. However, this really just hurts you in the long run when you realize you zoned out of an important section of lecture (believe me, I speak from experience on this one). Not to mention, your professors will love you for this. In a normal year, their whole job revolves around seeing and interacting with students. Now, they are left to essentially teach podcast style, lecturing to a black screen. Turning on your camera can help you develop a relationship with your professors, which is always beneficial! And, when your camera is on, it's easier to jump into any discussion-style courses with your thoughts. Speaking up in a virtual environment can be awkward, and honestly a little scary! But, doing so helps you, helps your professor, and helps the other students. If you need to, write down 1-3 bullet points on the main topics of the lecture, so that when they come up you can easily look at your notes and have something ready to say. 

Find Your Productive Spaces

While most of us are stuck in our apartments or dorms for most of the day, it is still important to create a space you can be productive in. Whether you need to spread all of your papers out on a desk, or if you prefer to study somewhere more comfortable, make sure you create a space that allows you to focus. Be wary of studying where you sleep though, and at the very least sit on the side of your bed rather than where all your pillows are. Believe me, I love doing my readings and classwork from my bed, but it's important to differentiate your spaces, even slightly. This can be as simple as sitting up against the wall on your bed, or at the other end of it. You're also going to want to keep your room tidy, so that when you're studying you can focus on school and not worry about the chaos that is your room. Also, don't forget to create a designated live lecture spot where you're comfortable with other people seeing your background. Having a space you can be proud of will make it easier to turn your camera on, and if you have cool room decor you might even spark a conversation with some of your peers!

Keep Your Body Moving

As someone who likes to stay busy, in a normal year my "me time" during the day would be walking from place to place on campus. And, let's be honest, that was even a bit of a workout. Hiking up Bascom with a packed backpack counts as exercise, but it's not something I do much anymore now that I'm not forced to attend a 9:00AM lecture at the top of the hill. When so much of our lives are existing in our homes and on our laptops, moving around can come as an afterthought. But, it's really important for your mental and physical health to keep moving. That can mean a lot of different things! Some days, maybe all you have time for is a 30 minute walk around your neighborhood. Other days, maybe you're doing an ab workout, some apartment yoga, or going for a run. For me, I like to block out an hour or so of my day and go for a super long walk. It helps me clear my head and reset my brain before I go back to class and homework. No matter what that looks like for you, make sure you're taking care of yourself!

Take Breaks

I think one of the hardest things about virtual classes and school is knowing when to stop. When you don't have the separation of being out and about at classes during the day and then coming home, the lines between school and personal time get really blurry. But keeping some time for yourself is still really important! Block out breaks between your courses if you have time to do things like take a walk, listen to some good music, catch an episode of Netflix, or even take a nap. This can help prevent burnout, and make sure you are actually absorbing what you're supposed to be learning. Your brain can't handle trying to do schoolwork from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed. That's another reason I live and die by my planner, because it lets me block my time out so I know when I have space for a break, or when I need to get some caffeine and keep going. Being organized with your time and tasks gives you freedom to do what you want after you accomplish what you need in a day. And freedom to do what you want means a healthier, more productive you!

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It's not hard to think that online courses will be easier than in person ones. But, the reality is that trying to stay on top of 4-5 online classes takes a lot of self discipline! Personally, I find it mentally exhausting! And that's okay. It's okay to be frustrated with your courses, and it's okay to do things differently than you would normally. What we can't do is give up on them, or let ourselves slip too far! At the end of the semester, we are still going to have finals, and we are still going to have to prove our knowledge. That's why setting up healthy, sustainable, and productive habits is so important! That being said, some weeks school just isn't happening the way it needs to in your brain, and it's always important to take time and space for your mental health. Communicate with your professors, seek help from your classmates, and trust yourself to get back on track when you're ready!

Erin Kleber

Wisconsin '21

Erin is majoring in Political Science and Communication Arts, with a certificate in Criminal Justice. She is a proud co-president of HC Wisconsin, and has been a member since her freshman year. When she's not writing or spending time with her HC gang, you can find her reading a good book, spending time up north, or cheering on the Badger football team. 
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