The Do's and Don'ts of Online Learning

Just because something is common sense doesn’t mean we don’t all benefit from the reminder! It is in that spirit that we compiled these Do’s and Don’ts for the virtual semester.

This past spring, our move to online learning wasn’t a well-considered transition—it was more of an emergency protocol. For that reason, the virtual classroom experience wasn’t true online learning; it was emergency distance learning.

In the months that followed, the faculty, staff and TA’s have been working hard make your transition to online learning as smooth as possible. There will be new platforms and tools, and for those who haven’t taken an online class before, this will be different. Trust that the team around you is prepared to help navigate this new way of being together.

In that spirit, here are your Do’s and Don’ts…

Make a Space

As they say “LOCATION! LOCATION! LOCATION!” It is so important (more than you even realize) to designate space. Even if it is a small desk in your living room, make it official; use it only for work or school so it’s reserved as a work space. If your desk is in your bedroom, only use it for school! Studies show that designating a space actually helps your body to do what it needs—whether that be your bed for sleep, your couch for TV, your desk for work, or your kitchen for cooking. Related tip: Don’t do work in your bed. Keep your work life and relaxation space separate. If you’re like so many PTS students, managing both work and school, see if you can divide your space. For example, can your desk be for work and your couch for school? What about your kitchen counter for work and your desk for school? You might not get it figured out on your first day or your first week, but keep experimenting until you find what works best for you!

Organize

We’ve already discussed designating space, but what if you don’t have a lot of space? Be strategic about how you use the room you have. Is a smaller desk going to work better for your space? Will a larger desk be better for your note-taking strategy? Do you need room for a computer and files for work? Again, figure out what is going to work best for your needs.

Change it Up

Switch up your scenery when possible. Your living room or bedroom might start driving you a little stir crazy over time. All CRW/Witherspoon apartments have balconies – USE THEM. Do some homework outside. Make friends with the squirrels and deer. Maybe you get sick of staring at the wall from your desk halfway through the semester. Rearrange! Even if it feels like you’re trapped, you aren’t! Take control of your space and make it work for you. Go to the field and do your reading. Become one with nature as you read about Creation.

Go Outside

On that note, go outside at least once a day! Get some fresh air, feel the wind or sun or rain on your face. You will be so glad you did. Since you’ll be in your home learning—where walks from class to class aren’t happening!—make sure to go on a walk or a run every day. Movement is critical to both physical and mental health, so consider setting an alarm to remind you to get up every hour or so. Take a lap around your apartment building or walk to the kitchen for a beverage. 

Lunch Break

Take a 30-minute designated lunch break EVERY DAY, regardless of how much work is left to accomplish. Your work will still be there after you grab a bite. Taking that break will actually help you focus and give your a brain break. One students said her favorite “break” is 15 minutes in the sun for lunch followed by a 15min nap (that’s if you’re a 15-minute napper!). If a midday nap doesn’t work for you, then don’t do it! If taking a short walk or going outside will totally derail you, then opt for an inside 30-minute break. Whatever you do, don’t stay in the same spot!

Make a Schedule

Best way to make sure that lunch break happens? Make a schedule. Schedule your homework time, class time, work time, and breaks! Be present with what you’re doing instead of trying to master multi-tasking. If you are in class, turn off your notifications and log out of other accounts – email, social media, etc. If you say you’re doing homework for the next two hours, then actually do homework. You don’t need to work all day, but do stick with your schedule and focus on that task.

Study Groups

Now that you’ve created a schedule, set up a study group through Whatsapp, Teams, or GroupMe. Would you normally do your Hebrew homework with a few friends? Why change that now? Don’t feel like you need to completely adjust how you learn because it looks a little different. Maybe you want to set a time to watch a pre-recorded lecture with some friends and have a quick discussion after. If you have lingering questions, be sure to ask your TA or professor. Make sure you’re participating in your precept discussions.

Know Who and How

On that note, know who to reach out to and how. Is email best for your professor? Do they have “walk-in” Webex hours? Do they have Calendly set up? Does your question need a conversation over Webex or will an email do? If your instructor isn’t actively asking for feedback every week, take the initiative and schedule a call or send an email. If you’re struggling with a specific way of learning it’s helpful to let them know. You may not be the only one, and you could be doing everyone a huge favor! This isn’t just for your classes either. Do you know who to notify if you get sick? What if you’re having issues with logging into your computer? Need help on a digital assignment? Reference the orientation course whenever you need it for quick guides on who to talk to.

Manage Expectations

This isn’t how any of us imagined this academic year to go, but it is important to jump in with enthusiasm. Whether you are a new student or you’re going into your fourth year or sixth year, we are in this together. Mindset is especially important right now. If our internal narrative is that this is going to be terrible, that can translate directly into our experience. You don’t have to be “up” all the time—change is uncomfortable and often challenging—but try to be positive and be gentle with yourself and others. Try saying this is new or different instead of deciding it’s going to be bad. Manage expectations around your productivity. With considerations including COVID-19, childcare, weekly reading and more, remember that it is okay to take a step back and breathe.

Get Fancy

We all love some good school supplies. If you normally purchase notebooks for class, still do that! Maybe get some different colored pens, matching folders, whatever is going to bring you a little joy. On the topic of supplies, consider using a yoga or medicine ball instead of a chair when working at your desk. But beware: You may become addicted to bouncing, which could look a little strange on video calls.

Wear Pants

Last, but certainly not least, wear pants!! You never know when you’ll have to answer the door, catch a barking dog, or run to help kids with school. Really though, if you are normally a suit and tie wearer don’t feel the need to go full out, but consider a button down and khakis. Getting ready for your day will help you prepare your brain and body. Go through your normal routine. Make coffee and breakfast. Who knows, you may feel like a new person if you change into something other than sweats!

That’s it! Overall, find what works for you. It may take a little more intentionality at first, but once you get a rhythm you may even like online learning!

Written by Alex Miller-Knaack, MDiv/MACEF ’21