What a crazy time to be alive. I never thought I'd be living through a pandemic. Pretty sure none of us expected it to happen this soon, on the scale that it is now. But alas, it's here and it's having a pretty large impact on education. Many schools have spent a countless amount of hours figuring out the best course of action for students, staff, admin, and the public. Majority of schools have transitioned to online distance-learning and have began their classes for the Fall semester just this week! There are many students who reveal their fear, stress, and frustration with this new approach to learning. Not many students have access to a computer, home environments are hard to focus in, we have a stay-at-home mandate, students no longer can sit and study in a cafe, content is difficult to grasp, and the list goes on.
I admit, online classes take a lot of discipline and effort on the student's end. It can become overwhelming because you have to really be proactive with your time and productivity. I remember when I first took all online classes my sophomore year, I had the hardest time trying to balance school and work, even if my classes were asynchronous. I was really bad at managing my time. I had a planner but I barely used it after two weeks in. After my first semester of online learning, I learned through trial and error what worked and what didn't.
I'm writing this post to share some tips that have helped me with my online classes in hopes that it could help you too. Let's get into it:
Find your study space
Finding your study space is probably the most crucial part of taking online classes. I remember my sophomore year of college l had the hardest time focusing at home because of all the distractions. I remember I would study at Starbucks for hours on hours. Unfortunately since most coffeeshops near me have been reduced to grab-and-go, I had to maximize my living space. I rearranged my room in a way that my desk was directly in front of my window so that I could get some vitamin D while studying my life away (think of yourself as a plant). It's also great lighting during Zoom meetings lol. I do like to change my scenery so sometimes I grab a chair and sit outside in my back porch, or on the dining table, or on the living room floor. I found that changing study spaces at different times of the day helps me feel more productive. I try to avoid my bed at all costs until I'm ready to relax and unwind from the day.
I encourage you to look at your living space and figure out how to maximize it to your advantage. If you need to rearrange a couple of things then do it! Create a space of peace and quiet so that you can work distraction free. You won't know what works best unless you try it out for yourself :)
Use a digital calendar
There are certain people who buy planners but don't end up making use it of it. That's me, I'm
people haha. I tried really hard to stay organized by using different kinds of planners that I found at Target. At one point I was doing really well with my Passion Planner, I color coded my classes and everything, but then I got inconsistent because I got busier. At some point in time I began to use iCalendar. Then when I started interning for Mana Maoli, I went onto Google Calendar. There are many other digital calendars to choose from that offer similar functions but if I had to promote one, it'd be Google Calendar.
My reasoning being that I love the readability and usability of the calendar. It fits my personal aesthetic and work ethic. I'm able to make different calendars and have them show all on one master calendar. I can combine my student schedule calendar with my personal one. I can color code them (I really love color coding LOL)! In the monthly view it doesn't look so color coded, but in 'weekly' view, it's much more prominent. In addition, Google Calendar is much easier to share with others. Using Google Calendar has saved me a lot of time, white-out marks, and stress.
Whenever I have a day off from work I usually use that morning to update my Calendar and prioritize what I need to get done. Mondays are usually my rest days. I made it a habit to at least dedicate a day to outline the week ahead of me. I encourage you to find a day and time dedicated to organizing and prioritizing your schedule. It may feel overwhelming at first but trust me when I say that it'll be so worth it. Have fun with it!
Save a folder of all your syllabi to your desktop
Okay this might seem a bit odd but if you think about it, it's not. I tend to find myself forgetting certain due dates, misunderstanding information on certain projects, or wondering what's next on the class schedule, so I to refer back to the syllabus a lot. Rather than having to login to my student account and go through a series of clicking and re-downloading PDFs, I save myself time and unnecessary trouble by already having it saved onto my desktop in a folder labeled "Fall 2020 Syllabuses". The photo above is just an example of what I did for my previous semester. Nothing too crazy.
Create a bookmark folder for classes
This is how my Chrome bookmark bar looks like on my end. I took some time organizing it earlier this year and found that it REALLY helped me whenever I needed to login to certain platforms.
This is what's in my "CLASSES" bookmark folder. It used to have more links from last semester but I cleared those out. I'm still in the process of organizing everything for this semester but this is just to show what I have so far. It's really useful for me this semester because for some reason, all my professors have decided to conduct their class on different platforms. One is using Canvas, another is using Google Classroom, another is using Laulima, and the other is using Blackboard. It's kinda all over the place but thanks to these bookmarks, it's a bit easier to manage.
Create a daily TO-DO list
I haven't always done this actually. But I found that my most productive days always began with a simple "TO-DO" list that would usually sit on my desk for the rest of the day. I break up my TO-DO list by classes and write down everything that I need to do along with it's due date. I judge whether or not that task should be prioritize for that day or if it can be done on another day. I always make sure I give myself time to rest, nap, exercise, eat, read, and have fun. It took me until college to understand that the only way I can give my best is if I get my rest. To me, rest isn't just sleeping, but it's also doing the things that bring me peace and joy.
So make sure that when you create your TO DO list, you make your self-care a priority too! Don't study for more than one or two hours on the same topic. Give yourself breaks. Go watch that YouTube video, or Tik-Tok, eat more food, water your plants, take a walk, etc. You're not superman/superwoman.
Stop being afraid of emailing your professors
I used to be so scared of asking my professors questions for fear of sounding dumb. There are some teachers in this world who are like, "there is no such thing as dumb questions" and then there are others who are like, "stop asking dumb questions." I'm not gonna lie, I have the hardest time formulating sentences and I always have to ask myself what I say makes sense alllllll the time, and it really bothers me. Whenever I stumble on sentences or questions I just choose to shut up for the fear of being a nuisance. But if there's one thing taking online classes has taught me, it's to just ask anyways, even if I do end up sounding dumb because that's how you learn. Nobody gets things right the first time and nobody should criticize those who don't. When I took up online classes in my 2nd year, I challenged myself to email my professors whenever I needed help with something and ask questions. Today, it's a lot easier to email my professors about any questions, concerns, or feedback I have about anything. Don't be afraid to ask for help. I know online classes are primarily self-driven but don't forget that you still have a resources to help on your journey.
Be persistent. Be determined. Be open. Communicate.
Remember the bigger picture
What is the bigger picture? Well why are you in college? Why are you pursuing your degree?
One thing I needed to wrap my head around when it came to online classes was my desire to learn. I need to want to succeed. According to the article, "What Makes A Successful Online Learner?" done by the Minnesota Department of Education, it mentioned that in order to be successful:
"an online student has to want to succeed. Online learning requires independence, internal motivation, responsibility, and a certain level of maturity"
You really have to hone your own learning. Online classes provide flexibility and convenience but it takes a lot more detail-management and persistence. If you lack these skills, it doesn't absolutely mean that online classes aren't for you, but rather this is a good time to enhance your abilities. You can do it! I'm rooting for you.
Online classes are a great challenge but I think it's a great opportunity for all us to learn what we are capable of. It's a test to your time management, grit, and drive. I know you have it in you. You just need to believe in yourself. Believe you can succeed. Speak it into existence that you will achieve all your goals. Ask God to give you the strength that He can provide.
Last but not least,
Don't forget to breathe
If you know me, I ALWAYS say this. I'm known to have people do breathing exercises with me during church retreats, telling them to look to their left, and to their right, just so that they can unconsciously become present in that moment. Often times we don't realize that we're holding our breathe when we look at our screens. I've recently learned from one of my professors that it's called "computer apnea" -- though I don't think that's a real term yet -- it's pretty much the observation that students who look at their computer screens for a long period of time don't realize that they've been holding their breathe for too long; therefore, restricting the flow of oxygen to the brain.
Take deep breaths. Remember that you are still here. You are alive. Push forward. You can do this.
Best of luck to you! 🤍