When colleges put their classes online due to the coronavirus, I heard so many people say they were struggling to do well because of the transition to having to be self starters and portion out their time wisely. Personally, I tend to thrive in that kind of environment (where there are fewer distractions and I don’t need to wait until a specified class time to get things done). Being homeschooled set me up for success in this! When everything was thrown online mid-semester, I brought up nearly every one of my grades to an A, making the President’s List for that term! I’ve been taking online college classes since 11th grade, when I started dual enrollment. This fall, my college is opening under some pretty ridiculous guidelines (I’d still like to know how they expect everyone to social distance in those hallways…), but I have adjusted my schedule so that I am able to have all of my classes online.
Just in case campuses close again mid-semester, here are my tips for succeeding (even if you’re not used to online learning):
- Don’t procrastinate
I know it’s easy to wait until the last minute, which is why I try not to take less than 18 credit hours a semester. Any less, and I have too much time on my hands and I fall into bad habits. Having so many credits and so much work to do actually keeps me from procrastinating, because I don’t want to forget something.
I know you would rather binge-watch Hogan’s Heroes instead of doing calculus homework (or maybe that’s just me), but here’s the most important thing I’ve learned in taking online classes: Get your schoolwork done first. You might be surprised at how much “free” time you have left over. Don’t do it the other way around. You probably won’t leave yourself enough time to finish all of your assignments. But hey, at least you watched all 6 seasons of Hogan’s Heroes. Maybe your professor will give you extra credit for that.
- It’s still important to take notes
Treat your online lectures the same way you would if they were in person. Take notes. The best thing about online lectures (if they’re pre-recorded) is that you can pause, and rewind the video if you missed something. Make sure to be diligent in taking your notes and labeling them.
- Read the textbook
In an online class, you might be able to get away without using the textbook. But it’s not a good idea to just go ahead and assume that. You should still read the assigned chapters in your textbook. Sometimes the textbook explains things better than the professor does.
- Use a planner!
When you take an in-person class, your teacher will usually start off the lecture by bringing your attention to upcoming due dates. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to hold true with online classes. Your professor will most likely not be sending out reminder emails of due dates (in all of my online classes, only one professor has done this for me). Your syllabus will have a lot of information, but I have had professors who won’t go by the syllabus and seem to assign homework on a whim. This is why you need to have a planner or one central location where you write down every single thing that is due. It can be very easy to forget to complete assignments when you take classes online. But online classes also require you to be mature, responsible, and take charge of your own education. Write down when things are due, so that you won’t ever turn in an assignment late.
- Pretend the due date is earlier
This is something I try to do (even when my classes are in-person). Lots of things can go wrong with online classes. Your internet could go out, your computer could die, or Microsoft Word might not save that 33-page research paper that you just wrote (I really need to learn how to use the “save” button). When you’re writing down when assignments are due, it might be better if you write that they’re due a day beforehand. If you follow this schedule, then you certainly won’t turn in your homework late.
- Ask for help if you need it
Just because your class is online doesn’t mean your professor or peers aren’t willing to help you. If you need help, ask. Most professors will still have virtual office hours, and those that don’t are likely still more than willing to meet with you virtually. Send an email to your professor, or text someone you know who is also taking the class. Don’t ever think that you can get out of the “hole” by yourself. You might be able to…but then again, you could just be digging it deeper, and then you’ll have to retake the class. Just like I did with Organic Chemistry 1 (Not a fun experience. Learn from my mistakes and avoid this at all costs).
- Still use a review sheet before tests
But how can you get your professor’s feedback? Luckily, if you have a smartphone or an iPod, you have a scanner. Assuming it’s hand-written, just scan your review sheet (make sure it’s legible), and send it off in an email to your professor, asking for their opinion on it.
- Have a routine
When your classes are all online and you don’t ever need to leave your nice, cozy bed, you may find it hard to wake up and get your school work done. Keeping a routine, just as you would if you went to class in-person, will keep you on track and productive. Wake up at a specific time every day, get dressed, do whatever you do in the mornings, and then jump right on into your classes. One of the best ways to do well is to have a consistent routine.
- Figure out what time is best for you to do your school work
Are you a morning person or a late-night person? I’m more of a morning person, so it’s better for me if I wake up early and get a head start on my school. This way, I am usually done by 1pm. I do know that I lose my focus around 2-3pm, so I try my best not to do any schoolwork then. It’s better for me to stay up late to finish than to try to keep going through the afternoon. Figure out when you’re most productive, and then utilize that time to work on your college classes.
- How to get work done in an asynchronous course
If your classes are asynchronous (i.e. don’t have a set time), how do you get it all done? If your teachers just give you a to-do list of what you need to read and complete, start with that. See what’s due first, and get that out of the way. If they’re all due at the same time, then just pick what you want to do. The goal is to not spend too much time on one subject. If I could do microbiology every day, I would. If I did that, though, I don’t think my grades would be very good in my analytical chemistry course. Time management is extremely important in an online course. The good thing about classes being asynchronous is that if I fly through microbiology, I can be done with that quickly. If you struggle in calculus (like I do), then you can take as much time as you need. You need to know what works best for you. If you want to set a schedule like you would get in an in-person environment, go ahead. If you want to spend a little bit of time in each of your classes every day, that’s fine. Or you could just want to do 2-3 classes a day and switch it up. It really doesn’t matter, as long as you get all of your work done on time (i.e. early).
- Do your best
I will admit that it’s really easy to do the bare minimum and complete the assignments with the least amount of effort, just to get them done when you’re taking an online class. After all, no one’s going to know, right? But you are able to learn so much more when you put all of your energy into your assignments. Don’t just do your assignments to get them done. Do them so that you will learn the material (that is the whole point of school, by the way).
- Don’t rely on being able to use Google to do well on your exams
Alright, so maybe your professor doesn’t require a LockDown browser (I didn’t have one who did until my senior year). But are you 100% sure that you can pass your exam just using Google (which is an honor code violation, by the way)? You shouldn’t be a slacker just because you might have the opportunity of using Google on your exam. Professors know the typical college student’s tricks, and they’re going to pick questions that are not readily found on Google…which is why most tests are timed. Stranger yet, some professors solely base their test material off of their lectures…and they’ll know by the grade you received if you are putting in the work for the class or not (and that has the potential of affecting your overall grade for the course, especially when it comes to the gray area of rounding up or down for a final grade). Furthermore, some programs actually record how much time you spend in them.
Online classes require a lot of work…sometimes even more than in-person classes. But don’t let that discourage you! Use that to push yourself harder. Don’t just do something halfway because it is hard. Put all of your effort into your classes, no matter how much work they demand. It may take up a lot of your time, but at the end of the semester, you’ll find an immense amount of pride in the work that you did for your classes.
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