Content from Simmons Virtual Orientation (Moodle course site), developed by Courtney Bohr and Lars Mackenzie, Simmons Instructional Design Team.
We recognize that the current circumstances are unprecedented, and that even for students who were originally intending to participate in a fully online program, the learning experience will inevitably be impacted by altered work and home environments. This section offers some practical tips for learning online, including establishing connections with your instructor and peers, setting up your space, scheduling your learning around other obligations, and even how to use digital apps to manage your time and course work.
Make the effort to touch base with your instructor early and often. Attend virtual office hours to introduce yourself, ask clarifying questions, or simply chat more about the course topics. Tell your instructor what is working well in the course and what else you’d like to learn. You should also feel comfortable voicing any concerns about your learning, whether it’s a concept you’re struggling to understand or a challenge with technology or scheduling. You don’t need to struggle in silence! Your instructor can discuss any issues you may be having or direct you to other offices at Simmons that can help support your learning needs.
Along the same lines, it is helpful to communicate regularly with your classmates. Participate in online discussions, ask your instructor if they can create an informal chat space in the course, or or set up an online study group. You may also be asked to participate in group projects or activities with your peers. Make sure you find a system that works for everyone in your group, whether that’s scheduling regular Zoom calls, using a project communication tool like Slack, or creating shared Google documents for easy collaboration. Defining roles and expectations for each group member early on in the process will also help avoid confusion and keep your project on track.
Most courses will have a consistent structure and flow to the content and assignment due dates. Take some time to review the syllabus and to familiarize yourself with the course site. Look ahead at your scheduled assignments, and take particular note of your due dates so that you can better craft a realistic plan for completing all of your work.
You will undoubtedly be balancing your online coursework with other responsibilities and obligations. Work, childcare, family obligations, and internships all compete for your time and attention, making it critical that you create a schedule that allows you to meet all of those demands. Try to set aside smaller chunks of time throughout the day to progress through your online course content. This approach can help minimize distractions and interruptions while you’re studying, and make finding time to schedule in your coursework more manageable.
Start with the due date and then estimate how much time you’ll need to complete each component of the assignment or activity (e.g., completing the readings, watching lecture videos, drafting a paper outline). Be realistic about your time estimates and keep in mind that it might take you a few weeks to settle into the routine for the course, so allow for more time at the beginning of the semester.
Benefits of using a task management app include built-in reminders and due dates, easy ability to edit, customizable layouts and view filters, and collaborative features (especially beneficial if you’re working in a group project). There are many apps to choose from, but a few worth checking out are Asana, Trello, Any.do, and Google Tasks.
Working for small chunks of time will prevent you from getting too overwhelmed and keep your mind focused. Setting a timer will help add structure and limits around your work time and will remind you to take short breaks. The Pomodoro Technique is one model of this type of time-management approach.
Develop a plan that will break down your tasks into smaller, manageable units. Goals like “work on research paper” are too vague and intimidating. Instead of “work on research paper,” try something more specific:
Other tips for writing an effective to-do list: start each to-do item with an action verb (e.g., read chapters 1-2); break large tasks down into items that you can realistically finish in one sitting; and write down goals at the end of the day so that you can jump right into work the following day.
Some simple tips that anyone can implement to increase your focus and productivity when taking online courses.
A review of computer apps and chrome extensions for students intended to aid productivity and studying.
Digital note taking tips for GoodNotes and OneNote, along with some general Q&As around digital note taking.