9 Tips for Effectively Taking Classes from Home
Practically overnight, many of us have found ourselves unexpectedly thrust into the world of taking or giving our university classes online instead of in the classroom. Like working from home, effectively attending an online class can be challenging under the best of circumstances; social distancing and a 'stay at home'/shelter in place advisory makes it even moreso.
The challenges of 'attending' college from home involve more than just learning how to deal with Microsoft Teams, Google Meetings/GSuite, or Zoom conferencing software. It’s also learning how to stay productive and sane, especially during this period of social distancing in the face of the novel coronavirus/COVID-19.
Establish 2 different mindsets while at home: “I’m engaged with school” and “I’m at home, not 'at school'.” Keeping them separated will help you be more productive and—just as important— help reduce your stress and anxiety.
Here are some essential tips if you have found yourself unexpectedly becoming an online college student:
1) Get up and get dressed as if you were going to head into campus. Yes, this sounds silly. After all, isn’t “Work in your pajamas” one of the big benefits of “take classes from home?" Nope. Plenty of studies have shown that you’ll be more productive and engaged if you dress and act the part. Being in your PJ’s or logging into your 9am class from bed isn't the best way todo this.
2) Establish a routine and schedule. Plan for ‘you’re engaged with school’ time and your ‘just hanging around at home’ time. And, yes, attend your online classes at the designated times; don't count on 'just watching the video later.'
3) Participate. Attending class online doesn't just mean signing in and then tuning out or being a passive watcher. Engage actively in the discussions; often there will be an parallel text chat discussion in addition to literal discussions and lecture occuring. Don’t be shy about asking clarifying questions using chat/email. But keep it concise. This is a good opportunity to learn the art of writing concise, to the point messages.
4) Designate a physically separate area in your apartment/dorm/home that is your “I’m at school” place such as the kitchen table or a separate area of your room. If you’re using a laptop for remote classes, go to that area during online-classtime. The goal is to make “I’m in class” be literally different than “I’m not in class" and having the environment be conducive to learning.
5) When attending an online class or team meeting, close down every window & browser tab on your computer except those you are using for the meeting. Literally close them down and put your phone out of eye’s reach. A classroom provides a buffer from distractions, but it’s incredibly easy to get distracted during an online class or online team meeting at home. A secret hint from a professor: I can often tell when you're not paying attention, even in an online class. Saying “hmm..I'm not sure I fully understand your quesiton...” when you’re asked something is a sure-fire giveaway that you were checking Facebook, reddit or chatting on Discord with someone instead of paying attention.
6) Turn your camera on. You’ll be more engaging and be more engaged with, and also convey your thoughts more clearly to others; a lot of communication is visual. Note that some video conferenceing programs allow you to blur your background, if you’re worried about people seeing your messy room or unwashed dishes in the sink.
7) During your school-time, keep Microsoft Teams, Slack or whatever communcation program your school is using open and check your email frequently. However, resist the temptation to check on non-school related channels.
8) Take breaks! During your break time, feel free to check social media, or get in a quick game of Osu. However, if you need to, set a timer for when your break is done so you don’t find yourself stretching a 15 minute break into 2 hours. (See #2).
9) Say “I’m done with school for the day”. When classes are over, and you’ve spent time on your projects/homework, etc, end your schoolday and don’t feel guilty about it. Assuming you’ve put in your full day ‘at school’, you’ll feel less guilty about hanging it up, since you were ‘at school’ all day.
One last thing around video conferencing… be aware of the noise around you! I was in a conference call once where one of the participants was eating potato chips, which their microphone did an amazingly great job of picking up. Not the most pleasing sound in the world for your fellow classmates. If you want to snack, or if your dog suddenly starts barking, mute your mic and/or camera. But turn it back on when things are back to normal.
Brian Schmidt has spent 20+ years as a work-at-home game composer and technology consultant and has been a Senior Lecturer teaching music and computer science at DigiPen Institue of Technology since 2012. He, like thousands of other professors, found himself havinging to quickly jump from the classroom to online learning and teaching in the age of social distancing.