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3 Tips for Surviving Online Classes

By: Professor Sandy Antunes

This is the summer where professors are also students. We're taking a lot of online classes ABOUT online classes–how to run them and traps to avoid. Online classes–due to COVID, costs, accessibility, and more–are becoming a standard part of a student's curricula. Sometimes it's online-only, sometimes it is the mixed classroom/online hybrid model. And as with any class, we're finding out some online classes are awesome and well-run and others are, well, 'less than engaging'.

As a professor, I'm working to improve my online class components. In the process, I have some advice for students taking an online class: three simple tips to maximize your ability to survive the class with your sanity intact.

1) Show up.

This is my advice for everything, actually–it's very versatile. Want to get paid at work? Show up. Want to do well in class? Show up. Want to join a team or do stuff with friends? Show up!

Note I'm not requiring you to participate or lead. That can come later. If you go with W. Allen's quote of "80% of success is showing up", that means you can get a 'B' in life just by being there. Extending on this, Chuck Close notes, "inspiration is for amateurs…the rest of us just show up and get to work". In class terms, this means logging into the online class and being at least peripherally aware of what is going on–listening (mostly), responding to prompts and chats (ideally), being there for the breakout rooms (best!)– is the basic expectation for an online class.

2) Read the Professor.

Not the textbook, not that kind of read. Learn how to tell what style and expectations a given professor has. We're not all alike (thank goodness), so figure out our style and you can simplify your life. Do we lecture uninterrupted, or do we have a pattern (e.g. "first a student presents, then a short professor lecture, then breakout sessions")? Once you have that pattern, like any video game boss fight, you know how to pace yourself for the class.

You can also figure out what parts you like most. Some people like lectures (seriously, look at Ted Talks), others like the hands-on parts, a few like open discussion. And for each item one person likes, a different student may find that their weakest part of the experience. So read what the professor and class do, figure out which parts you like, then focus on those parts. It's okay if you don't enjoy 100% of the class, the key is figure out what parts work for you.

3) Find a side activity that aligns with the class.

To avoid disengaging entirely from a class, pre-plan by choosing an activity that helps keep you (mostly) engaged with the material. For example, which of these seems a good strategy to stay alert during a boring lecture?

a) Working on the homework while the lecture is happening (equivalent content)

b) Practicing guitar chords or knitting, doing something with your hands so your mind can stay engaged (kinesthetics)

c) Muting the class to watch Comedy Central instead (not helpful, at all)

And yes, all 3 have happened in classes I've taught, and both 'a' and 'b' are great strategies to stay engaged with online learning. We don't expect you 100% there, but showing up, being 100% there for the parts that thrill you, and keeping relatively on track will help you succeed.

Love or it not, online learning is here, and hopefully these tips will help you extract the most from it!