When COVID first hit last spring, schools had to unexpectedly pivot and move from traditional, comfortable, in-person classroom learning to an online platform.
Many of my clients (whom I saw virtually – we at TutorPUG had to pivot as well!) were – understandably – a bit miffed about paying for in-person instruction and having to suddenly learn online. “If I’d wanted to take the class online, I would have,” many grumbled.
However, there is a huge, vast, Grand Canyon-sized difference between “online curriculum” and “emergency remote instruction.” This past spring, we experienced the latter. Preparation for a course intended to be administered in an online format takes months of planning. Homework problems and quizzes and tests are prepared in advance. Lecture notes are made available online, and there are additional resources provided…but mostly hours and hours and hours of careful thought dictate a true online course.
Hopefully, with schools one after the other adopting either a full online format this fall or a hybrid version, there has been enough time for instructors to adequately not only prepare online course material, but learn to navigate the online teaching portals. I’ve been a student in (and taught!) both online classes and traditional classroom classes. From both perspectives, I’ve cobbled together some steps to being truly successful in an online format – but it applies to the “regular” classroom, too.
1. Establish a growth mindset.
- An excellent read is Mindset, by Carol S. Dweck. In this short but fascinating book, she has the reader identify if she believes she has a fixed or growth mindset. So many times, I run across students and coaching clients with a fixed mindset, as evidenced by such statements as, “I’ve always been bad at math,” “I’m not any good at sports,” “My teacher is a jerk and doesn’t like me.”
- Who says? Why are you limiting yourself? You are not merely the sum of your parts; you are an astonishingly unique cluster of cells with limitless potential. Limitless. Truly. A few bad grades in math, or a semester that kicked your butt, or your inability to slam dunk are merely pieces of past evidence upon which you have chosen to focus, and eventually believe.
- What if you tried something different? What if, instead of approaching this semester with anxiety and trepidation about the unknown, you said to yourself, “Hey, this is going to be a completely new game with new and different rules. I have a chance to start fresh and really generate some academic success. What resources do I need to make that happen?”
2. Treat it like actual school – Suit up. Show up. Participate.
- Human brains crave regularity and structure. Arising in the morning at the same time each day and acting like you are physically going to class will train your brain to anticipate the routine of school and a physical schedule.
- Shower, get dressed, put on real clothes. Brush your teeth. Put on shoes (not house shoes, and I am guilty as charged, so this is as much for me as it is for you). Act like you are attending a physical class, and dress and prepare appropriately.
- Establish a study space that is NOT your bed! Designate an area in your residence for school. Get your computer, notes, pencils, calculator, etc. together in this space…that is NOT your bed. Establish a locale that tells your brain “when we’re in this space, we are studying and focusing on academics.”
- If you are in a meeting, keep your video on (unless otherwise instructed), pay attention, and ask questions (if/when appropriate). Many people say, “I don’t like asking questions on a Zoom call.” Why not? What’s wrong with it? If it’s a big class, nobody is going to know who you are anyway, so who cares?
3. Take ownership of your learning.
- “My instructor hates me. My teacher gave me a bad grade. I’ll never get it. It’s too hard. This is dumb. My professor sucks.” Well…you just gave away all of your agency in your academic career. Comments like those come from students who employ what I call the Baby Bird Method of Learning. This involves sitting in one spot, completely helpless and defenseless, waiting for someone else to bring you food which they actually regurgitate into your throat.
- Who would like to be a baby bird? Raise your hand. Anyone? Wanna eat barf all day?
- NO! We want to be in charge of our own lives, we want to forge our own paths…we want to eat our own food the first time around, and not have it urped back up for us.
- Now…these things take energy. They take effort. Being a big kid and tracking down a piece of information that was not barfed into your brain by your professor during class takes work. Going out of your way to start a dialog with your instructor might be outside your comfort zone – it’s hard. But I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy; I’m telling you it will be worth it.
- If you don’t immediately understand a concept or a class period, explore other resources. Look online (YouTube, Khan Academy, Kuta Infinite Software…) to see if the concept can be explained another way. Email your instructor. Ask a classmate. Re-read the material. Use your resources – they are literally at your fingertips!
4. Meet your teacher/instructor/professor
- I’ve been preaching this message for over two decades. When I was teaching at the college level, the students in my classes who made the effort to come visit me during office hours were remembered…usually in a good way.
- This tidbit especially applies to college students and is one of the most important things a student can do towards the efforts of a good grade in the course. This may come as a surprise, but college professors are actually (mostly) humans. Usually your professors will be excited to answer your questions and learn who you are.
5. Read the course material that will be covered in a lecture…BEFORE the lecture.
- I first heard this tidbit when I was a junior in college and ignored it. Senior year? Nope. Pretty sure I had it all figured out, thank you very much. (I didn’t.)
- Finally put it into practice in graduate school, where I not only aced nearly every class, I actually learned and remembered most of the material beyond the semester. (Mostly. Some classes elude me to this day.)
- At the start of your online course, print off the syllabus. READ IT. Keep it handy. Use it to know what material will be covered on which day – and read up on that material BEFORE class.
6. Don’t assume that an online course is easier than in person.
- Nope. Where is that written? Why would it be?
- With six months to prepare for this ultimate inevitability, you think those teachers are going to take is easy on you?
To succeed in our virtual academic environment, treat it just like a physical classroom environment, but without the hassle of having to drive to school, jockey for parking, or walk to class. With that extra time you’re saving, you can read those chapters for lecture the night before!