8 Tips to Survive (and Thrive) in Online School

Too bad you can’t say you left your homework at home.

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Arman Fathi

An example of one of our staff member’s virtual class setup

Arman Fathi, Staff Writer

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, Loudoun County Public Schools has decided to proceed with virtual classes for the 2020-2021 school year. So, with a new setting for schooling emerging, it’s time to get ready to do your best in these strange times.

 1. Have a Designated Workspace

When it comes to any kind of work, it’s best to do it in a specific place, and that applies to online school, too. Set yourself up for success by creating a learning environment dedicated to studies. The more that you complete your work here, the more your brain will associate this area with getting work done and accomplishing goals. Whether it’s your back porch, your kitchen, your living room, or maybe even your closet (if you want to be a vampire), it’s important to determine what environment will work best for you. Consider a location with an adequate internet connection. 

Top three things to have:

  1. The books, notes, and appropriate browser tabs you need for your classes that day.
  2. Headphones, earbuds, or some other way to transmit audio from your device to your brain, especially for when your family starts clattering about around you.
  3. A charger for your device, because there is nothing more embarrassing than going to ask the teacher a question, and your tech dying halfway through.

2. Get Organized (and stay that way)

Now that you have a designated workspace, it’s time to get organized. It seems simple enough; pens over here, papers there, a fun flower pot in the corner–but the real monster arises when the rubber meets the road and you have three essays, a project, and notes to take on the lecture about the history of the bunny rabbit due by the end of the week. And suddenly, you’ve become disorganized and don’t have the motivation to put your workspace back in order. 

Start off simple: create a set of folders, whether in a binder or in your storage drives, each one labeled with your classes. From there, create folders in those folders to organize and separate your notes from your homework, and handouts from your projects. Don’t create this and abandon it, though. Use it daily, consistently, and purposefully. Once you’ve got a shell down, don’t be afraid to experiment with it and expand it to fit your needs. In time, it will become a lifeline you can’t work without. 

Just don’t forget to make backups in case of accidental crashes or deletions.

3. Eliminate Distractions

Dedicate a specified time for school work each day and try to isolate yourself from distractions. When enrolled in an online course, it’s good to have a routine, such as working for a set amount of time immediately after completing a task (e.g. working on history notes for two hours after you eat lunch on Mondays). If it is routine, then it will be easy to maintain. Be sure to place yourself somewhere there are minimal distractions (see tip 1).

It’s important to have a designated study area free from outside noises and distractions. Turn off the TV and put your devices on Do Not Disturb, so you won’t get social media notifications halfway through your cram session for the chemistry final. Some background music can help you to relax, but it’s important that it’s not too loud. I find that Lo-Fi and Classical music really helps me get the most work done.

4. Pay Attention

It’s so simple, it just might work! With online classes, it can be easy to get distracted, but if you want to survive (and thrive) in classes this year, you need to pay attention. When the teacher is talking, take notes. Write down the important points, and ignore what you know you won’t need or can commit to memory. If the lecture is recorded, put time stamps on your notes, especially if you are typing them. Keeping notes is going to be necessary, will help you focus on what’s going on in class, and will help you later when you’re trying to remember the difference between a bullfrog and a toad.

If your notes are going to be online, familiarize yourself with ctrl+f, the “find” command. This can be used in almost any and all programs to search for phrases and words, helping you to associate keywords with important information and definitions.

5. Hold Yourself Accountable

For anyone who has done an online course before, you’ll know that it is quite a hassle to keep yourself in check. Set personal due dates for all of your assignments and check in on those due dates at least once a week. Now, this is not an endorsement for turning in your work late. Instead, set deadlines that are workable for you, but fall within the timelines of your teachers.

 If you’re having trouble with keeping track of your work, reach out to your teacher and let them know that you are working hard to complete their assignments, and maybe give them a heads up that your work might be late. You might not be exempt from late penalties, but you will be letting your teacher know that you still care about their class, regardless of its virtual setting.

6. Take Breaks

Taking frequent short breaks can help boost your productivity. We all can zone out a bit and go a little fuzzy in the head after a few hours of studying, so a break of five to ten minutes between study sessions can really reduce the strain on your brain.

During these breaks, don’t think about the work that you are doing, and instead, give your brain a breather. Stretch your legs, move your body, drink some water, grab a snack, and recenter. If it’s been going off while you were studying, check your phone at these times, and don’t forget to turn off notifications for when you start studying again.

7. Treat Yourself

If you get an A on the paper, celebrate. If you get an A in the class, throw yourself a little party. It’s important to remember that even with a pandemic, virtual classes, and the stresses of high school life, that you do have a life. Go spend time with your loved ones and do things that make you happy. If you only study, do homework, and cram, you’re going to burn out.

Remind yourself that school and classes will end one day and that you are going to do amazing things when that happens. Life is only just beginning, and it’s a lot easier to go through when you have something to motivate you.

8. Be Positive

This is a tough time for everyone, and we couldn’t have planned for this in advance. So smile, laugh, and find joy in the work that you do. It may not be what you want to do some days, but it is helping you grow as a student and as a person.