Published: March 16, 2020 By

In light of CU’s decision to move to remote learning for the remainder of the semester, you may be concerned about more than just COVID-19. Making the move to online classes can be tough, especially if you’ve never done one or if you need the structure of going to class in person to help you be successful. I know that for me, online classes can be really difficult. I miss the structure and discussions that come with in-person learning, and I tend to procrastinate more than usual (and I usually procrastinate a lot…). On top of these challenges is the abrupt and overwhelming context of this particular switch. We didn’t sign up for online classes, and we didn’t expect to be making this transition mid-semester. Whether or not you agree with CU Boulder’s decision, here we are and we need to adapt.

Myself, the Student Advisory Board, and the greater CU Boulder community want everyone to be successful this semester, wherever you are and however you learn. So I want to share some of the tips I’ve seen and used for taking courses online, so we can all make the change with grace and continue to do our best.

Dedicate a place to doing schoolwork

That place should NOT be your bed.

That was true for me. I always fall asleep in bed. But if you can study in your bed for long stretches of time, more power to ya. Choose a place that works for your learning style: maybe you do best in silence, maybe you like working with friends. Whatever works for you, find a spot in your home or in the community that meets your needs and make it your study spot. If you can pick a spot that you will use just for the purpose of schoolwork, do it. It can be hard when you study at home, but having a space made just for that will put you in the studying headspace as soon as you sit down. Limit distractions in this space as much as possible. That means you should follow the next tip as well.

Set up and get ready before you start

One of the biggest distractors for me, particularly at home, is thinking about how I should grab a highlighter or a snack or use the bathroom or clean my room. Every time I get up, I end up doing five other things and my study time melts away. Before you settle in to watch the lecture or take notes from slides, take care of all of that stuff. If you need to take the time to clean before you can focus, go ahead and do it. It takes time but it would bother you if you left it. Get that out of the way. As the saying goes: “as without, so as within.” Clean your space; clear your mind. Just try not to deep clean every room in the house…

Grab all the materials you need. Get your laptop charger, pencils, notebooks, a snack and plenty of water. Everything you grab now is one less thing you have to break your concentration to get later.

Keep up

Falling behind in an online course is sooo easy. Especially with asynchronous courses in which lectures are pre-recorded rather than on a live platform like Zoom that requires you to join on-time and participate. Make sure you watch lectures and do classwork the same way you would normally. You won’t see that you are getting behind until you realize you have a quiz due later and haven’t watched the last three lectures. Make sure you are keeping track of due dates without having the safety net of a professor reminding you every other day leading up to them. This is all a part of my next tip.

Keep to a schedule

By this time in the semester, you are used to going to class at set times, your sleep schedule is (mostly) regular (hopefully), and you have built your schedules for your job and free time around school. So just keep that schedule. You already have all the alarms set; you already have your routine. Keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t let yourself fall out of it or it will be much harder to get back on track. Every day, get up on time, set up your study spot and watch the lecture at the same time you normally would on campus. Do your homework as soon as you learn the material for it, and check your calendar or set reminders so you know when those due dates are coming up. Make to-do lists, leave yourself notes and set reminders. Do whatever works best for you, but you may need to try a few options before you find the one that works best!

Utilize Zoom office hours

It may seem strange to be doing online office hours or office hours at all. But really there are only good things that can come from it. Office hours are a great way to keep up and get clarification on class material and homeworks. In online classes, it's also a time you can get information on class structure. You even get the added bonus of not having to go out of your way to make it to the professor/TA’s office AND you get to stay in your PJs. Big win all around. Your professor’s office hours are there just to help students. They want to help you, believe it or not. They often give you important information about exactly what they want to see on homework and tests so you don’t have to guess anymore.

Collaborate with classmates

Professors aren’t your only resource for help with this stuff. Your classmates can also be an awesome source of information and help. Set up a group text, Slack, GroupMe or Zoom meeting together if you feel uncomfortable meeting in person. Working with classmates can help you share knowledge and it assists in getting everyone on the same page. Something you missed from lecture? Somebody probably knows it. A question you have? Someone else has the same one and another may have the answer.

Take breaks when you need them

Although I advocate for keeping to a schedule, you also have a benefit here that comes from the ability to pause when you need it. You won’t be absorbing things or doing your best work when you are run-down or frustrated. You can come back to something if you need to. Don’t use this as an excuse to procrastinate, but be able to recognize when you need to take time for self-care, sleep and the like. For quick breaks while studying, set timers for yourself. Do an hour on and then take a fifteen minute break. This can be helpful for guiding breaks without losing track of time and wasting the day away.

Reward yourself

Sometimes it is really hard to stay motivated, online or not. So make a system of rewards for yourself. You can tell yourself something like, “Once I finish my work for the day, I can (fill in the blank).” That way, when you are getting down to the last bit of work, you have something to look forward to. Making little deals with yourself creates self-discipline that will help you stay on track and keep you from messing around when you should be working. When you complete a task, you get a reward. For me, it’s things like snacks, Reddit, video games, online shopping; you get it. Basically, any of the things I think about when I’m working, I use as a bargain so I can get things done in a timely manner.

I hope some of these tips can make things a bit easier for you. Some of them seem obvious or you’ve heard them a hundred times, but when it comes to online classes, stuff like this can be even more important. We are in a tough situation and nobody wants our GPAs to suffer on top of it. Remember to stay focused, safe and supportive of yourselves and each other while we go through this big transition.