You got this!  Doing Well in Online Classes

by Virginia Horan

It is one thing to choose to take a course online, but quite another when a student is suddenly thrust into a completely new modality for learning.  Across the country, schools are moving  their teaching to online “virtual” classrooms.  While certain details may vary depending on the school or the teacher, there are TEN things every student can do to be successful.

1. Be patient. Many teachers and professors are figuring out how to do this online at the same time you are so don’t panic or think we are expecting you to be high-tech online super stars!  Be patient with yourself, too as you get the hang of it. 

2. Key terms & Your Tech Setup: Synchronous means the teacher will be “broadcasting” their class at the same time they usually teach.  Asynchronous means the lesson will be recorded and you can access it at any time.  Power Points and assigned videos or other additions to a given lesson are considered asynchronous because you can access them outside of class time. Your teachers will make it clear how they will be delivering the material. Discussion Boards are usually within what they call an LMS (learning management system) and those are online “spaces” where you ask and answer questions as you would in class.  Teachers often use these as a way to give you participation points.

Set Up:  Your best option is to use CHROME or FIREFOX to access any online learning environment.  For most learning platforms, a webcam and microphone are used but, in this crisis, schools cannot demand that students have them.  Almost every “live” video meeting has a dial-in option, which means you can see what they are doing on your screen but you use your phone to dial the number they give you and tap in a pin code so you will be able to speak and be heard in the session.

3. Tutorials! As soon as you know what software or learning platform your teacher is using, do the tutorials, even if you think you don’t need them. Your school should  provide links to tutorials, but you can also go online and search for written and video tutorials provided by the software company itself or teachers on you tube.  For example, Blackboard is a major learning management system.  Their website offers excellent tutorials, but YouTube has several as well. Make sure you find a tutorial on using a discussion board and submitting your work.  See the links at the end of this article.

4. Pretend you are really there! Get a calendar or print each week out using free printables and RIGHT NOW, block out the times you will be “in class.”  If you have been in a certain routine, stick to that.  If you are in high school, block out each period of your schedule as it would be in school and FOLLOW IT.  College, same thing.  Block out study/homework time as well and stick to it.  This simple act of following a routine and devoting that designated time to the work in that class will make all the difference.

5. Create a dedicated study space. This is SO IMPORTANT.  You need to “go” to that space the way you went to your classes.  Avoid messy or cluttered spots and most of all, AVOID YOUR BED.  Sitting at a table or desk tells your body to work and your brain will follow.  Lounging in bed and having to learn don’t go together.  Even if you get your homework done in your bed, that is NOT the same as being engaged in a lesson that is being taught online.

6. Assess your internet access. This is a tough one depending on where you live but find the strongest spot in your home or if possible, purchase a “booster” for the system.

7. NEVER WAIT. If you were going to have to hand in homework the next day, chances are you will need to submit it online as well.  Stick to a routine of doing every assignment as it comes.  Larger projects should be broken down into steps, so for example if you have an exam, start making flashcards of key concepts for studying a week before the exam.

8. Set Limits and Take Breaks. Try to estimate how much time each task will take beyond the classroom and even consider setting a timer.  When you are doing things from home, distractions are everywhere and you can find yourself getting off task, like when the dog needs some love, or a family member enters the room.  Work on increasing your self-discipline by sticking to the task for the time you set aside for it.  ON THE OTHER HAND, you’ll know when you are having trouble concentrating and then TAKE A BREAK.  When classes end, you get up and move around.  Do this at home as well.  Take a lunch break or a dinner break.  Walk around and get some fresh air.  Avoid the black holes that might suck you in, though, like the next best binge-watch on Netflix.  Save those as rewards when your work is done.

9. PARTICIPATE…BUT HOW??? It’s really important to communicate with your teacher and they will have systems set up, even if it is using email, for you to ask questions. It’s also very important you are ACTIVE in the class using the chat function that appears during video conferencing and the discussion board.  It’s so important to “be seen” in the class and to continue to ask questions and for the guidance you need.  Don’t be shy.  If something isn’t clear, ask again.

10. How you view a situation has a lot to do with how successful you can be.  It’s not magic, but it is positive psychology and it works.  Tell yourself you can do this, and you will get through this.  Every school in the country is asking its teachers to be patient,  helpful and understanding.  Do NOT obsess about your grades because that is something schools are contemplating as well – how to keep this fair for everyone.

Links to the top four learning management systems in the US

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