Across the country, hundreds of colleges closed abruptly, forcing students off-campus as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Rather than cancel the semester outright, most universities opted to finish the year with remote learning, encouraging students to take their classes virtually from their homes.
If you haven’t taken online college classes before, the shift from in-person learning to virtual learning can be daunting. And with so much going on— statewide restrictions, food and essential supply shortages, and non-stop news cycles — being productive and staying on-task can be difficult, and the idea of completing your classes can be overwhelming.
To help you through this time, we consulted with an expert to come up with the best tips for taking online courses.
5 tips for taking online college courses
Taking college courses from home is very different from taking courses in a classroom with an in-person instructor.
For Dr. Nan Adams — a professor in the department of educational leadership and technology at Southeastern Louisiana University — that meant shifting how she prepared her class materials. She’s been teaching for 28 years and spent 10 years exclusively teaching online classes in a previous position. But with the sudden impact of COVID-19, she had to redesign her classes quickly.Read about our response to COVID-19.
“What I’m using right now is Moodle, which is an integrated learning system that’s delivered via web-based tools,” Dr. Adams said. “I have worked very, very hard to create instructional videos. If I had been given more time, I would have used more elegant tools. But I ended up using PowerPoint with voice-overs and click-outs to videos.”
If the switch from classroom lectures to videos and PowerPoint is difficult for you, use these five tips for taking online courses to help improve your overall experience and productivity.
1. Create a study spot dedicated to your work
While it may be tempting to try and take your classes from the couch with Netflix streaming in the background, that approach makes it easy to get distracted and lose focus.
If possible, try to create a dedicated space for your schoolwork. It doesn’t have to be a fancy office or even a desk — just anywhere that is relatively quiet with limited distractions. You can use the kitchen table, a countertop, or even a nightstand you drag into a closet. Keep what supplies you need nearby, like pens, your textbooks, your headphones, and your computer or phone charger.
2. Design a schedule for yourself
While doing your classes from home gives you more flexibility about how and when you choose to get your work done, Dr. Adams recommended sticking to a schedule.
“Try and be systematic with how you do your work,” she said. “Each class, in my opinion, should be treated separately. Most of the faculty that I know are arranging their instruction to mimic what the students already had in place.”
That means if you had a class on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:00 a.m., try and check-in and watch the course materials at that same scheduled time slot.
Keeping to that schedule gives you a guidepost to work towards and keeps you from falling behind.
However, Dr. Adams also stressed the importance of building in breaks for yourself.
“Yes, you have to have a break,” she said. “There are so many tools available to students now that it really requires them to become organized with their work.”
3. Check your email and messaging systems daily
Many schools are requiring faculty to respond to students within 24 hours, so Dr. Adams suggested that students check their email and messaging systems at least once a day.
“I would suggest that students check their email every day, probably at the same time every day, just to make sure they don’t miss anything,” she said.
Faculty may send out changes to the syllabus, new course materials, feedback on assignments, or information about upcoming tests.
4. Take advantage of free internet
Unfortunately, not everyone has access to reliable internet. For Dr. Adams, that’s a problem she has seen regularly.
“We [Southeastern Louisiana University] service some remote areas, and we have challenges with access here,” she said.
If possible, Dr. Adams recommended downloading materials — such as PowerPoints or PDF files — so you can access them offline. If you don’t have internet access, you may be able to tap into free Wi-Fi at coffee shops, cafes or in the parking lots of fast food or grocery stores.
5. Contact faculty if you’re having problems
If you are struggling with your coursework or have issues with accessing the material, contact your professor as soon as possible for help. You can contact them via phone, email, and many professors are even offering office hours via Facetime or Skype.
“Be upfront with your faculty,” Dr. Adams advised. “If you don’t tell me, and it’s a month down the road, it will be just that much harder to get you where you need to be. So just be forthcoming.”
While the switch to online college classes can be difficult, it is possible to finish out the semester taking virtual classes and succeed. The most important thing is to take care of yourself, come up with a routine that works for you, and to communicate with your professors.
“This is the time when your faculty members want to hear from you,” Dr. Adams said. “They’re rooting for you.”