In the middle of the spring semester, students across the U.S. had to suddenly leave their schools and finish their courses away from campus. This was a difficult transition as many students were not accustomed to virtual learning. As summer is coming to an end, many students and their families are wondering what school will look like in the fall. So far, many schools have chosen to do some form of virtual learning: Here's how to cope with it.
1. Establish a Routine
Before COVID-19 hit, many of us were accustomed to a routine that made our days predictable and helped us stay productive. We had a certain time that we arrived at school, attended classes, breaked for lunch, and participated in after school clubs, sports, or part-time work; but when COVID-19 closed schools, all of this changed. For many students, virtual classes were often optional and less academically demanding. Some even experienced a drop in motivation, and their grades suffered as a result. Our social life also took a hit from not being able to see our close friends as often as we'd like, and many of us felt lonely and more isolated than ever.
However, a new school year is upon us and we have the chance to start fresh and make things better than they were last year. One of the most important things for online students to establish is a routine that they stick to during the school week. Making a daily schedule can help you be more productive, reduce your stress level, and make sure you stay on top of your schoolwork. I would also try to plan out your days as close as possible to your normal in-person school days, which can be especially helpful for students who are required to attend in-person school a few days a week along with online classes.
In your daily planner, I would pick a certain time to wake up every day, write down when you have to log onto your online classes, when you plan on doing your homework and study, as well as times you will exercise and have some downtime. It's okay if you don't stick to a specific routine every day, but it's important that you try your best to add structure to your life in a time when almost everything is uncertain.
2. Make a Designated Space for Working
With many libraries and coffee shops closed, we've had to resort to our bedrooms to do online classes. Many of us have fallen into the habit of logging on to Zoom classes, doing homework, studying, and answering emails from our beds. While it is certainly comfortable and relaxing, I would avoid going into your bed unless you're going to sleep. The reason behind this is that we associate our bed with sleeping, and doing school work from it may cause you to become tired and distracted.
Instead, try to work at a desk or table. It will make it easier to stay focused, get more work done, and feel more productive. I would also recommend that you stock your desk with school supplies like pencils, pens, highlighters, paper, and a computer charger. This way, you'll have everything you need in one spot and don't have to constantly get up to find materials around the house.
3. Make Time for Exercise
It's easy to stay in our homes all day, glued to our computers and phones. With school, work, events, and businesses closed, some of us have no reason to leave the house at all. However, that does not mean we can't get some fresh air every once in a while. In fact, going for walks or jogs around your neighborhood can boost your productivity and help you get out of your mid-day slump. Not only is it good for your physical health, but it can help improve your mood by releasing endorphins — a neurotransmitter that can help you feel happy.
Some people like to exercise early in the morning, while others prefer to set aside time later in the day. It does not matter what time you do it, but it's important that you get moving for 30 minutes to an hour a day. To make it more enjoyable, you can listen to your favorite playlist or even bring along your dog, if you have one. If walking or jogging is not your thing, you can do some at-home yoga which is gentler on the body. There are plenty of free yoga tutorials on Youtube and even certain apps that help guide you through the positions.
4. Minimize Distractions Around You
Since you'll most likely be doing a lot of work on your laptop or computer, you should be aware of just how many distractions there are on the internet and how to avoid them. Youtube, Netflix, and Amazon are just a click away, and it can be distracting when you are trying to write a paper or make a PowerPoint. The last thing you want to do is accidentally go down a rabbit hole of YouTube recommendations and then realize your assignments are late.
To combat this, there are many different kinds of browser extensions you can download on your laptop that allow you to block certain websites like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for however long you want. By blocking these distractions, you'll get your work done much quicker and have more time to do other things. But don't worry, once the time you set up has passed you can resume access to these sites again.
Here are the links to 3 different versions of browser blocking extensions for you to check out:
5. Actively Participate
We all know that participating in class is important, but the way you do it in online school looks quite different from regular school. No longer are you racing down the hallway to get to your class on the other side of the building. Instead, your classrooms are now just a click away on your computer, and being marked tardy is less of a concern.
However, being on-time in an online class is still just as important as being on-time in a regular in-person class. As a rule of thumb, I would always long onto your Zoom link 5-10 minutes before your class is supposed to start. There are two advantages to this:
- It gives you time to solve wifi connection, camera, or audio issues. Technology can be finicky, and the last thing you want is to miss part of a lecture or discussion due to a computer problem. By logging on early, you can avoid some of this embarrassment and nip the problem in the bud.
- Some teachers long onto their classes early, and you can use this short window of time when no other students are around to have a friendly chat, get a question answered, or go over something you were confused about. However, if you need a lot of help, I'd suggest visiting their virtual office hours or setting up a private meeting (more on that later).
Another way that participating in online school is different is the way you will be engaging with the material. This year, you may not get to have a physical copy of your required textbook. Instead, you may have to download an e-book that can be easily accessed through a tablet or computer.
While this may be an adjustment, there are many tools you can use to help you understand the information you're being presented with. Many college students use apps like Notability, Noteshelft, Apple Notes, or Microsoft OneNote to virtually highlight, annotate, and even read the textbook aloud. Apps like these are certainly worth a try, and you may even end up preferring e-books after all!
Also, apps like these are helpful for taking notes during class and not just for e-book reading. I like how you get to handwrite rather than type, as material retention has been proven to be stronger this way. You can color-code your notes, easily erase mistakes, use fun backgrounds, and even import pictures.
These apps work best on an iPad, and while they are quite expensive, I think it's a really good investment for not only your online classes this year but for college and beyond. It's also worthwhile to look into refurbished iPads, as they are often hundreds of dollars cheaper but work the same as new ones.
6. Communicate With Your Teachers
One of the biggest challenges of online school is feeling disconnected from your teachers. You probably won't get to pass by them in the halls and have a friendly conversation, go to their classroom during your lunch period to get some extra help, or get to be in the after-school sport/club they are running. Most importantly, many online students feel as though they have trouble asking for help when they don't understand something because they only get to see the teacher in the class they are struggling in. However, most teachers understand how big of a transition this is for you, and it may even be hard for them.
Open communication with your teachers is really important, and it can often have a big impact on your grades. Whether you're struggling with a problem set or a final paper, make the effort to reach out and get help. You could schedule a private meeting with your teacher through Zoom, go to their office hours, email them, or even ask your classmates for help. While it may seem scary at first, the more you are open and honest with your teachers the less anxious you'll be. Also, teachers usually love it when their students reach out to them, as they see you're making an effort to improve.
Pro tip: On Zoom, there is a private chat function where you can send a message to your teacher without your classmates seeing it. This is helpful when you have a question or want to tell them something you don't want to share with the whole class.
7. Designate Downtime
Online school can be really time-consuming, not to mention stressful and anxiety-provoking. Being successful in an online class doesn't mean you can't take a break or relax. In fact, you need to be taking breaks in order to be your most productive self. How you take a break can look very different depending on the person. Some people like to take their dog for a short walk, others like a coffee or tea break, and you may prefer listening to music. It does not matter what you do on your break, but it's important that you're taking them often.
Something called the Pomodoro Technique has proven to be one of the most effective studying styles, in which you work for 25-minute intervals (Pomodoros) and take a 5 minute breaks in-between each one. Then after 4 Pomodoros, you take a 25-30 minute break.
This method is effective because it instills a sense of urgency in your mind. Rather than feeling like you have the entire day to get work done and becoming easily distracted, you only have 25 minutes to make as much progress on your tasks as possible and are therefore more efficient and productive.
Some common breaks people use in-between their Pomodoros include:
- Having a drink or snack
- Going outside
- Using stress toys
- Deep breathing
As you begin to move into your school year, I hope you take some of these tips with you and remember that we are all in this together. Work hard, ask for help when you need it, and don't forget to take breaks. The Teen Magazine wishes you good luck. Go get 'em!