How To Succeed in Online Classes During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Like many students, you are probably in the position of being unable to return to campus because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused respiratory illness in almost every country, overrun hospitals, and made physical distancing (“social distancing”) the new normal. Colleges and universities everywhere are shutting down their campuses and moving classes online.

This isn’t the first time a pandemic has forced distance learning upon unprepared students. In 1665, the Great Plague of London forced Sir Isaac Newton and his classmates out of Trinity College for a year. Still, Newton used his time at home to develop his early work on calculus, using prisms to develop his theories on optics, and making his famous gravity observations.

Although you may not be in the midst of revolutionizing math and science, you can take control of your learning and keep up with your classes. Here are six things you can do to thrive in the switch to virtual learning.


1. Stay disciplined

Your home may not look like campus, but you are still in college. Your 15-hour course load still requires 15 hours per week of “in-class” instruction, plus roughly 30 hours of studying, researching, and writing, whether you are physically on campus or not. Because you’re at home, there’s a lot of potential for distractions, so you’ll need to focus on staying focused to stay on track.

To concentrate on schoolwork, set aside a workspace and create a study schedule, just as you would if you were on campus. “Making your dining table double as a desk for the day is one way to create a dedicated space to ‘attend’ classes,” suggests Michelle Boucher, a chemistry professor at Utica College. You could even take a lap or two around your apartment or house as a way of “walking to class.” It will help get you into the headspace needed to focus and study.

John Kirk, associate professor of chemistry at Carthage College in Kenosha, WI, says another good way to keep focused is to use a calendar app to schedule blocks of time in your day for class, studying, etc.  “Google Calendar works well, as I’m sure others do,” he advises.

You want to make sure that you attend live online lectures or use time you would normally be in class to watch lecture recordings. In addition, active participation in online discussions and study groups will help you keep up with learning content and your assignments. “Look at what you have to do for the whole week and divide it up into manageable blocks for each day,” advises Amanda Carroll, chemistry professor at Tennessee Tech.

Of course, now your interactions will most likely be done through online postings, a chat box, or video call. “If you are the type of student who is an awesome active listener, always nodding and responding to the lecture, you might have to find different ways to show that you are following along with a conversation,” says Boucher. “A simple ‘understood’ or ‘thanks’ in a chat room can help a lot.”

With online communication, you miss the subtlety and social cues that come with body language and eye contact. What sounds like a lighthearted quip in your head can come across as harsh without your smile. Write out what you want to say prior to posting your thoughts online to help organize thoughts and communicate clearly.

Another way to stay disciplined is to put your phone out of easy reach so that you’re not tempted to check text messages or Instagram every 5 seconds. You can do that when it’s time for a break, just as you would when leaving a class.

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