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Making the Most of Online Classes

Ten tips particularly important in the COVID era.

Alexandra_Koch, Pixabay, Public Domain
Source: Alexandra_Koch, Pixabay, Public Domain

We've mainly taken courses in-person. And even when online courses were an option, many people, especially the social, opted to trade the hassles of getting to campus, child care, etc., for the energy that in-person classes tend to evoke. Indeed, the completion rates for online courses has been low—10 to 20 percent.

But now, amid the COVID restrictions, the in-person option is usually not available, The following tips may help you not only complete your courses but perhaps learn at least as much as you would have in the in-person version.

Use the chat or message feature to ask a question. Especially if you tend to be reluctant to raise your hand, messaging enables you to take the time to choose your words carefully and to revise before clicking Send.

Take advantage of muting audio and video. For example, if your baby starts crying, just mute your video. Need a biobreak? In an in-person class, it may feel awkward to walk out. Online, it’s less obtrusive. Just walk away or, if you wish, stop your video.

Choose your breakout group partners. Most higher ed online learning platforms allow the instructor to break-out the students into groups. If there are two or three classmates you’d like in your group, in the chat, ask the instructor.

Use share-screen. Especially in courses with a visual component, use the share-screen feature, available on most platforms. To take a psychology example, it enables you to show a video clip of a mock session you conducted for homework.

Form a Zoom study group. Some people prefer to do all their studying solo, but if you’d like to be in a study group, consider taking matters into your own hands. Perhaps with your aforementioned favorite classmates, form the group. Compared with the traditional in-person study group, one that meets online on Zoom, Skype, or Google Meet may well be more convenient.

Take advantage of the course's portal. It enables you, in one place, to see the syllabus, lecture notes, forums, grades, and past exams, and submit your assignments.

The following tips are valuable in in-person classes but the difficulty of learning online probably makes them even more valuable in remote classes.

Modest note-taking and underlining. Assiduous students tend to take too many notes and underline too much of assigned readings. That creates too big and too uncurated a set of readings for exams and makes it less likely you'll use them as a resource in the future. On the other end of the continuum, cavalier students tend to take almost no notes nor do much underlining. Rule of thumb: Only write or underline what you wouldn’t automatically remember and that’s important to you and, okay, to the instructor. Usually, you can tell what the instructor cares about because s/he slows down, speaks louder, writes it on the board, or even says, “Know this for the test.”

Customize big assignments. When you get an assignment for a term paper or project, ask yourself if another topic would be more valuable to you. If so, ask the instructor if you can do it. Often, the answer will be yes.

Email the professor or visit online during office hours. Ask questions or for advice that you’d rather ask privately. You’ll be getting the individualized instruction that often ends up being of particular value. Most professors welcome questions as long as they're asked respectfully, not using the too-confident tone some students evince, implying their opinion is as worthy as the professors’. That’s not often the case.

Ask for a discount?

It would seem fair that colleges offer a large discount because they're not offering in-person classes and extracurriculars. Besides your being short-changed, online education costs universities less: For example, the classrooms that needn’t be heated and kept clean. It doesn’t appear that many colleges are offering that, so it might be worth your asking. Nothing to lose.

The takeaway

One of COVID’s silver linings is that it's forcing online course providers to upgrade. Make the most of today's online courses and you may learn at least as much as in an in-person one, and more conveniently.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

In the second part of this series, I write about how to efficiently learn on your own.