Online learning has gained a prominent place in our everyday lives since mid-March, when the university switched to a fully online format of instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you are a returning online student or taking some of your first grad school classes online, staying organized and connecting with your peers online can all help you be successful. SAGE member and PhD candidate Olnancy Tzirides provides tips she’s learned from her research and teaching experience in online learning.
Being an online student requires an additional level of organizational skills. While online learning offers increased flexibility and multitasking potential through its ubiquitous features, working at home can present a greater possibility of distraction. No matter what life throws at you, try to put these ideas into practice to help you stay on track this semester.
- Familiarize yourself with the digital tools used in the course. Whether it is the Learning Management System (LMS) or just a digital tool that your instructor mentioned in the introductory course information, try to get familiar with it as soon as possible. Log in or create an account to it, try to check the different functions that it offers, search the web for short tutorial videos on how to use it. Don’t be afraid to try things out and explore the different options provided. This activity will make you comfortable from the beginning and it will give you extra time to focus on the actual course learning later.
- Follow or create deadlines. In graduate school, some courses may have suggested deadlines that grant a lot of flexibility. These can be really helpful, but if you are having a hard time staying motivated, they can also work to your detriment. If possible, I advise students in my online classes to stick to the deadlines that are given to you, even if they are advisory. If your class doesn’t have deadlines or you are working on an independent project, create deadlines for yourself and stick to them as though they are enforced by someone else.
- Set aside regular work time. If your classes are asynchronous, it can be easy to think that you’ll have time to work on your classwork later… and then realize it’s Friday and you haven’t looked at the course all week. Set a working schedule of 1-2 hours per day per class to spend only on the course requirements – readings, assignments, watching video lectures, writing discussion posts.
I know that life happens and sometimes these two hours might get disrupted, but try to be consistent to your schedule and make up for any lost hours. It is usually helpful to think of these couple of hours as if you would actually be going to the college, the library, or a coffee shop to be working on the course. The most important thing is that once you set your mind on dedicating a specific amount of time every day, you are many steps ahead in the road to success.
- Communicate boundaries with those you live with. With all members of the household working from home, children attending school remotely, pets begging for attention, improvised (and often not private) work stations, and social media at your fingertips every moment of the day, it can be hard to set and maintain boundaries. Yet setting and enforcing boundaries can make or break your online learning experience. Make sure you let your roommates, partner, and children (if they are old enough to understand) know when you are planning to work on your classes and would like to not be interrupted. Communicate about this desire early and often so that everyone knows what to expect and can plan their days accordingly.
Get Connected with Your Peers Online
Despite the fact that we are all working remotely and practicing physical distancing, this does not mean that we also have to remain socially inactive. Try to connect with your peers through the LMS or in any other social tool that your instructor might have suggested. Connect to the live sessions, if there are any, as it will help you to meet and interact with other students, see the instructor and get a more social experience in the course.
- Choose if/how you’ll use video chat. Personally, I like having the camera on during the Zoom sessions, as it helps me express myself better through facial expressions and gestures and it makes me feel closer to the other participants. Plus, I like seeing other people’s faces when they have their cameras on, following the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s saying that humans are social beings from their nature. However, not everyone feels comfortable having their video on during a zoom call, and that’s okay too.
- Set a Zoom background. Not excited about showing the inside of your house to all your classmates? Zoom backgrounds can quiet the environment around you on the screen and give you an extra modicum of privacy while still letting you reap the social and emotional benefits of being on video with your peers.
In the end, despite how the situation will evolve this academic year and how the instruction will happen, the important thing is to find ways to get the most out of the offered courses by staying focused and trying to enjoy the process of being a student!
Olnancy (Anastasia-Olga) Tzirides is a PhD candidate in the Learning Design and Leadership Program. Her research interests include emerging digital technologies, like Artificial Intelligence tools, online education, as well as language and culture learning. Olnancy loves traveling to new places and exploring different languages and cultures. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends, playing board games and crafting.