college, COVID-19, and coping: tips to make the most of online learning 

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“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.” —R. Buckminster Fuller, author, inventor, architect, futurist

One of the big ways society has adapted to the coronavirus pandemic is by pivoting to online learning. Pretty much all education, from elementary to graduate school, has moved online. For most of us, it’s a very different way of learning. I am a college senior in my last quarter before graduation, and I find myself wading through the weird new reality of online school, separated from my friends, professors, and classmates.

I’ve observed things that work well and things that are less effective, and I want to share some tips for how to make the most of your online education—and some tips for teachers on ways to make your classes more engaging and interactive.

For Students

  • Be respectful. This is new territory for everyone. Professors weren’t taught how to teach via camera, and we weren’t taught how to learn via computer. They need as much time to adjust (probably more) as we students do. Plus, everyone is extra stressed out and scared right now. Remember we’re all just humans, and be kind to each other.
  • Be motivated. Pro tip: Get dressed for class. Tons of studies show that how we dress affects how we feel. So ditch the PJs and put on normal clothes. You’ll be more alert and take in information better. You don’t need to necessarily pretend you’re in a classroom, but getting yourself into a classroom mindset will go a long way to boost your learning experience.
  • Be fun. Play off other students. You still need study buddies, so try to make friends with your classmates in discussion groups and in the chat room of whatever e-learning software your school uses.
  • Be thinking. Ask questions in chat or over your mic. No one will judge you for it. In fact, your professor will likely appreciate the interaction. Another way to level-up your learning is by asking follow-up questions that build on the ones that others ask.
  • Be studious. The advantage of online education is being able to review your lectures at any time. Go back later and review what didn’t make sense, watch a lecture at 2x speed, stay caught up. Getting behind is easy, and watching six lectures in a row is way harder than you think!
  • Be proactive. Reach out to other students for help if you need it. Invite them to study together, for some extra accountability. It’s a good idea to create a group chat using an app like for studying and to exchange ideas and ask questions about the material.

For Professors and Instructors

  • Be prepared. Familiarize yourself with the online e-learning or conference software you plan to use, and iron out any technical difficulties with your camera, your mic, and your computer beforehand. Do a quick scan of your surroundings before the lecture, and close all personal or non-relevant browser tabs and windows. We don’t need to know what brand of socks you’re buying.
  • Be interactive. Lecture, but don’t act like it’s a one-way recording. Greet your students, and encourage all of them to have their cameras on. Introvert or extrovert, we all miss human interaction, and seeing familiar and even new faces can help us all get by a little easier.
  • Be flexible. Technical difficulties are inevitable. Internet service has taken a beating, and new software has a learning curve. Think of ways to disseminate the material or your lecture if online classes aren’t working right. Text-based chat requires a lot less bandwidth than video does, so maybe record yourself and share the file with your students in a, where they can ask questions, and you can answer them.
  • Be present. Take note of raised hands or questions in the chat box in a timely manner, and be sure to read the question aloud before you answer it. The questions in the chat section can be easy to miss!
  • Be patient. Students are more likely to goof off when they’re “attending” class via video or audio instead of in person. Understand that all of us, teachers and students alike, are craving social interaction. You can allow the distraction for a moment or two, and maybe even join in, but when it’s time to bring the focus back to learning, do so gently. Or if it’s too distracting, be ready to put a stop to it so others can learn. As the host of the lecture, you have the power to do things like mute mics and turn off the chat function.
  • Be helpful. Students may feel disconnected from each other in an online class. Maybe break up into small discussion groups occasionally to facilitate deeper conversations and study relationships. Since extracurricular activities are pretty much shut down, suggest ways for your students to connect and study outside of class, such as chats, video calls, etc.



Photo by Emma Matthews Digital Content Production on Unsplash

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