Happy September!! It's always a bittersweet feeling starting a school year, and this year things are looking very different from all of your previous years because many, if not all your courses are online. I'm going into my last year of my undergrad degree and as many of you know, I'm majoring in psychology! I've been taking online courses since I started university since I thought it was a great way to sneak another course into the semester without actually having to physically go to a class. If you know me from university, you know I suck at actually going to my scheduled in-person classes on campus. I swear to you I'm not a bad student, I actually have really good grades, it's just that if the lecture slides and audio from the lecture are posted online, what's the point? So I've mastered the art of acing the online course and since everyone is in the same boat right now, I thought I'd give you some pointers that helped me navigate my way with online courses.
1. Print Out Your Syllabus This might sound simple, but it's always helped me a ton. With online courses, it can be extremely easy to miss due dates since you don't have your professor reminding you in-person. Write out the important dates on your syllabus onto your day-to-day calendar and put them in your planner (write them in as many spots as possible). The more reminders you have in your records, the less likely you'll forget about something. Also, make sure you watch the first lecture your professor might post going over the syllabus. Many, many students think that this lecture will be a waste of time since you can just read the syllabus yourself, but I can assure you they will go over it in more detail that will help you understand exactly what's expected of you in that course.
2. Plan Out Your Days
One of the best feelings in the world is checking off tasks on a to-do list, so I use this method through my online classes. Every Sunday night I plan out my week the best that I can. On top of planning my week, I very strictly plan my next day (for example Monday). I've found that most of my online courses have weekly participation activities, so it's important you write out when you plan to do it in your week and to plan when you will sit down and do your lectures each day.
3. Do Your Lectures & Take Good Notes
Throughout the Spring and Summer I did four online courses and every single one of them had all open book exams. Surprisingly, these exams made me more nervous than closed book in-person exams because with an open-book exam, the prof will make the tests as hard as they can possibly be with the content they've covered. The good thing about these open-book exams are if you do every lecture and take good notes, you are guaranteed a good grade on that exam. So, do the assigned readings, take the time to pause the lectures and take the best notes you possibly can so that you will finish the course with an amazing grade and boost that GPA of yours!
4. Recreate the "School" Environment in Your Home Depending on the person, this can be extremely important or not important at all. But, it can be very helpful to have a space like a desk or even at your dining room table or kitchen counter that you label your school space. Since you're at home and you're steps away from the TV, couch and your bed, it can be hard to actually get stuff done. Creating a school space lets you be productive as if you were at school. Recreating the school environment also means you're not trying to do your schoolwork in your pyjamas; get dressed as if you were going to school. I don't know about you, but when I look good, I feel good and if I'm in my pyjamas with my hair a mess, it can be hard to feel like I'm actually suppose to get work done because these are my sleeping clothes. Match yourself to the environment of school so you can feel like you should be getting school done.
5. Take Breaks This was something that I didn't do that led me into a very unmotivated and unproductive state. Taking a break doesn't mean grabbing your phone and scrolling on Instagram, it means get outside! There were weeks during the Spring and Summer where I didn't leave my house (not even once) since there was nothing open due to Covid-19 and my courses were online and I work from home too. This can actually make a person go crazy so please get outside at some point during the day. Also, lectures can feel extremely long and boring (depending on the course and prof), so the beautiful thing about online courses is you can pause your lecture, go eat lunch or go for a walk and then come back to it.
6. Ask Questions to Your Professor
I'm going to tell you this right now, asking questions is a good thing!! If you don't understand something, or you need more clarification about a topic or even if you're having trouble with your technology within the course, ask! Chances are if you have a question, others are struggling as well and at the end of the day, you're paying for the course to understand the content within it.
7. Don't Procrastinate This may sound simple, but nothing sucks more than trying to go through 3 or 4 lecture videos that you kept pushing off until a day before the exam. Procrastination can hurt you in online courses much more than in physical in-person courses, so please do yourself a favour and do your best to not leave things to the last minute. Get stuff done each week so you don't have a huge build up right before your exam.
8. Study For Your Exams (Even if They're Open-Book)
You may think studying for an exam that's open-book is a waste of time, but I can tell you from personal experience it's important. Professors like to make sure their students are studying for their open-book exams by giving you JUST enough time to finish your exam if you have 30 seconds to 1 minute to finish each question. That is not enough time if you're being asked application questions, especially when you have 40-60 pages of notes (not trying to scare you, just encouraging you to study!).
9. Control "F"
Meet your best friend throughout online courses this year. Control "F" is a computer shortcut to search words within a document or PDF. So, if you get a question that asks "According to the video from lecture, which phenomenon does "The Marshmallow Test" examine?" You can control "F" the words "marshmallow test" and it'll come up in your notes that The Marshmallow Test examines instant gratification in kids. Practise using control "F" before you open-book exams so you're familiar with it. It will save you a lot of time and boost your exam grades for sure.
10. Quizlet Unfortunately, not all online courses allow open-book exams, some have closed book exams. Usually closed-book exams come with an online proctor tool that you'll have to install before the exam. Basically, these proctor programs will lock your browser screen on the exam so you can't have other tabs open or be able to look at your notes, it will also disable your copy & paste functions and some will even take control of your microphone and webcam to make sure you don't have physical copies of your notes and you're doing the exam by yourself. Don't try to cheat on these proctored closed-book exams because it'll just cause you more stress trying to cheat than it will actually taking the exam. To study for closed-book exams, I've been using Quizlet since my first year of university as a Freshman. It's a free website that allows you to make online flashcards and helps you learn them! Definitely check it out!
Well there you have it! I wish I had read a blog post like this before I started college in my freshman year. These are all some shortcut tips that I had to learn the hard way, so I'm trying to save you some headache and lots and lots of tears lol (I'm mostly talking about the procrastination one haha!). I know going into online courses for your first time can seem scary, but you will get the hang of it and you might not even want to go back to regular in-person classes, who knows!
Have a great year/semester of school! Talk soon!