Due to the current situation, many students have transitioned from onsite learning to online learning. And for any student, it’s a challenging situation to get used to. I understand the frustrations, anxiety, and concerns that some students may face, especially when it’s the first time taking online classes. This post aims to help ease the transition and provide positive reassurance about the online learning environment.
Virtual vs. Online Classes
When the academic shift happened, all onsite to online classes at my school were still set to specific times and are referred to as attending virtual classrooms a.k.a having Zoom meetings. Students had to attend classes during the times that they were originally set as if they were onsite, no matter where they were in the world.
I personally did not take any virtual classes, but I have friends from the same university who are currently taking this type of class. I asked one friend, in particular, some questions about the experience and some tips to help others with their virtual classes.
Online learning environments are again different for all universities. My regular semesters are 15 weeks long. One class subject happens only once a week, but lasts about three hours. Our online learning environment follows this similar setup, except it’s not constrained by having to be in class during specific hours.
My online classes are accessible in the school’s student portal. Upon entering the class, class announcements, syllabus & supplies list, outline, discussion, media, and roster are viewable by students.
Class announcements, syllabus & supplies list, and roster are pretty self-explanatory, so I’ll elaborate on the other three categories.
The outline is the most important tab for online classes. It showcases everything that will be covered for the entire 15 weeks. Though we can see all the topics per module, we are able to access only the current module’s contents, which include reading materials, quizzes/tests, discussion topics, and assignments. This is where we also submit our work for the week.
Within this tab, the discussion section is one of the most important activities to focus on. Discussions are essentially the participation portion of the class. Discussion topics can range from anything related to the week’s lesson or completely random. Some discussions may cover only one topic, others may cover multiple. Responses can be based on factual research or personal opinion. The main goal of this is to get students interacting with one another to create thoughtful conversations as if we were in a physical class environment.
Discussions were personally my least favorite part of online classes mainly because I was always afraid of posting the “wrong” answers even if they were only opinions. I often posted my reply towards the end of the week as I didn’t want my peers to see my answer and I would possibly get judged by it. This was definitely my biggest weakness of online classes, and if I were to take future online classes, I’d learn to not worry too much about what others would think of my post. Everyone has their opinions, and not everyone will agree with what I say, which is the beauty of discussions – having a variety of opinions and thoughts.
Overview – Go through the discussion topics on the first day that the module opens. If preferred, write or type them down somewhere to quickly read them again.
Research – If it’s a topic that requires some research, get your research done as soon as you can and jot down important information. Collect information first before formulating your response.
Post Early – Try to post as early as the third day of each week. You’ll have one less thing to focus on.
Post Length – If the topic requires lengthier responses, write at least 3-5 sentences, and try to have your response open for further discussion.
Replies – Reply to at least three of your classmates every week. If possible, reply to those who have less than three replies to prevent repetitive responses to those who already have multiple ones. When replying, it’s nice to start your replies with a greeting + their name. It’s a simple friendly gesture.
Be kind and respectful. Whether or not you agree with someone, it’s okay to let them know your stance. But do so in a respectful way and provide an explanation that’s not just: “Because I said so.”
Don’t stress over what your classmates and teacher may think of your post. You’ll know what they’re thinking about once they reply to it. Even if they don’t agree with you, it’s okay! It’s their opinion, and you ultimately decide whether you understand their reasoning and accept it. If not, then respectfully respond with why you still feel strongly otherwise – if you still do. With this, you’re promoting actual discussion and seeing things from other people’s perspectives.
Students are able to access class discussions in the outline tab even though it has a separate tab of its own. This tab additionally includes a discussion topic where we introduce (write) ourselves on the first week of classes. Sometimes instructors would also include a “late/redo” discussion topic where we can submit any late or revised assignments throughout the semester. It’s also a quicker overview of all discussion and assignment topics.
Depending on the class, the media section may include the instructor’s tutorial or supplemental videos that will provide an additional understanding of the reading material.
Advantages of Virtual and Online Classes
Advantages of Virtual Classes
The Zoom app allows students to record each virtual session, perfect for storing and revisiting feedback and critiques when needed.
Instructors are able to invite more industry professionals to do presentations and provide additional guidance.
You can sleep until at least 20 minutes before class time, and don’t have to worry about preparation too much.
Advantages of Online Classes
Convenience & Flexibility
Aside from attending virtual classes at specific hours, online learning has allowed me to plan my study time within my day and not the other way around. I was able to attend my classes anywhere, any time of the week (so long as there’s a stable Wi-Fi connection).
More Comfortable Learning Environment ** [included later as a disadvantage as well]
Let’s face it, I was practically in my pajamas and in bed for my online classes. I’d typically lean my back against the wall with my pillow as a makeshift laptop table. Whenever my eyes would feel strained, I’d place my laptop on the side and lay down for a while. Also, because my classes typically have the blinds drawn on the windows, at home I’d have my window open and allow fresh air to enter, sometimes along with the warmth of the sun. When I’d get hungry, I can easily prep myself some quick snacks or a meal and eat comfortably.
Though tuition fees are the same for both online, virtual, and onsite classes, there are some expenses that we get to save up on when taking online classes. I typically walk to school for my onsite classes, but I was still able to spare commuting fees – for example, on days when I had to take the bus/rideshare due to rainy weather or wanting to go home as quickly as possible. By staying indoors, I was less exposed to shops and restaurants, and therefore less tempted to splurge on unnecessary items.
Some would argue that there are fewer classes offered online than onsite, but from my experience in my program, there were in fact a couple more classes that were offered exclusively online.
Quick Access to Grades
When I took onsite classes, I’d only see 4 grades in total: first progress grade, midterm, second progress grade, and final. Unless I specifically asked, I wouldn’t know what grade I got for a specific assignment/week. With online classes, I can see my grades for every work I submitted each week. By knowing how I did per assignment, I can already estimate what grades I’ll get for my midterm and final. This allowed me to focus on what I needed to work on.
One of the best aspects of online classes is that everything is readily accessible whenever I wanted. For example, when given feedback in onsite classes, I’d have to write them down, and they’d typically be in short keywords. Sometimes I’d request to record their feedback. With online classes, my instructors provided a mix of visual, audio, or written feedback that I can easily revisit. Tutorial videos and notes are also typically provided throughout the semester.
Some might say that having strong self-discipline when taking online classes is a disadvantage, and as much as I tried to see it that way, I viewed this only as an advantage. Practicing self-discipline through online classes has helped me stifle bad procrastination habits, such as checking my phone every couple of minutes, sleeping too much, and watching Netflix. I was able to improve my time management skills by allocating specific times of my day to study and actually complete my assignments the day before they’re due.
Disadvantages of Virtual and Online Classes
Receiving feedback may get unorganized as students will be sharing their screens during presentations or critiques, and their peers may be talking all at once, making it difficult to see or hear clearly who’s providing the feedback.
Different time zones make it challenging for students to get up and stay awake for certain hours.
Virtual interactions are not as immersive as onsite classes. Depending on the class, the instructor may be doing the majority of the talking while students remain silent until discussion time.
I once wasn’t able to submit my work because the student portal was down, and it wasn’t up until the next day. I remember having slow internet speeds when I had to upload large files. Tech failures are incidents we can’t predict but should expect. They’re a pain, but they’re unavoidable. Expect to experience some sort of tech issue during the semester.
Ways To Prepare For Technical Issues
Save Files – Write down or download all files (reading materials, discussion topics, assignments) necessary for the week as soon as the module opens or as soon as you have internet access.
Backup Wi-Fi Facility – Bookmark the nearest café that allows you to use their Wi-Fi. If your Wi-Fi is slow or isn’t working, go to that café or another facility as soon as you can and continue working there.
Work Directly From Your Local Drive – Never work on your assignments/discussion topics directly from the portal. Yes, your work may be auto-saved, but it’s better to have start your work directly from your local software in case something happens to the website that causes you to lose your work.
Email Work to Yourself – Send your files to your email each time you’ve completed a portion of them and are taking a break. In case your Wi-Fi suddenly stopped working, you can access your files on your phone and hopefully continue working through there. Or submit your work on your phone using your data if you’ve already completed it.
I never actually got to become friends with any of my online classmates unless I was already friends with them from my onsite classes. Sad, I know. But there’s just something about online classes that I don’t feel obligated to interact unless it’s about the class assignments, which still didn’t happen often. Majority of my classmates online were also spread out across the world, so it was futile to meet in person as well. Because I tend to keep to myself, I didn’t really find it bothersome, but the whole semester did feel like I was still never really classmates with my peers. I can remember most of the faces and names of my onsite classmates, but I can barely remember them from my online classmates.
More Comfortable Learning Environment ** [included as an advantage as well]
Just as much of an advantage this is, I also find it as a disadvantage. The point being that I am, in fact, in a more comfortable environment, in which I am easily accessible to all the things I list in the advantage section. Although a separate desk is around, sometimes it’s still hard to concentrate on my work as the environment around me screams “home,” “relax,” and “do other things.”
Ways To Stay Productive In A Homey Environment
Create Your Own Study Area – Create space to be your study area. If you don’t have a desk available, you can order a simple one online or a makeshift one out of boxes. Anything is fine as long as you’re not wrapped up in bed.
Switch Up Your Study Environment – Instead of staying in one study area every day, try switching up your environment. One day, you can be in your bedroom, another you’re in the living room, and then your front/back yard. Yes, there might be other distractions, but at least your body won’t get too comfortable sitting in one area for weeks at a time, making it easier to focus.
Change Out of Sleeping Clothes – Change out of your sleeping clothes and into clothes that you’d typically use when going to school. This should prevent you from going back into bed and remain focus for a couple of hours to get work done.
Decorate Your Workspace – If you have a desk, you can re-decorate/organize it into a more professional workspace. Create enough space for your laptop, school supplies, and a bottle of water and plate of snacks. Print out motivational messages and place them somewhere in front of you. Whenever you feel down or stressed, look to these messages, and repeat them in your head until you feel your motivation returning.
Stronger Desire to Procrastinate / Distractions
It was challenging to ignore the pleasures of being at home. I got my bed, snacks, and Netflix in front of me. I also didn’t have an instructor checking if I’m on my phone. As hard as it was to ignore, here is where the advantage of self-discipline came in.
Ways to Overcome Procrastination & Distractions
Phone – Place your phone a walking distance away from you, and turn on airplane mode.
Productivity Apps – Download productivity apps, such as Forest, to help prevent you from using your phone during study time.
Planner – Purchase or create a planner in order to get organized with your tasks & goals. Take advantage of the calendar on your phone and input your assignments and their due dates.
Chrome Tabs – If you’re using Google Chrome, place all entertainment tabs in one window, then close it. When you’re done with your work for the day, visit your Chrome history and reopen those collected entertainment tabs.
Time Blocks – Try studying in blocks of times per day. You can start out with 30-45 minutes at a time, with 10-minute breaks in between. Then, you can go up to 50-90 minutes, with 15-minute breaks. Use these breaks to take a walk around or outside your home in order to relax your eyes from the tension built from lengthy staring at your screen.
Due Dates – Set due dates for yourself. Write your to-dos on a sticky note and place them where you can easily see them, or use the sticky notes app on your laptop and place them on your desktop.
Smaller Tasks – Set smaller tasks. Instead of telling yourself, “I’m going to do one assignment tonight,” say: “I’m going to draw some sketch ideas for assignment 3.1 tonight.”
Incentives – Think of incentives. If there’s a TV show that’s going to be on around 9:00 tonight, and you really want to watch it, use it as an incentive to finish up assignment 3.1. Or if there’s a beautiful outfit you saw at the mall the other day, tell yourself if you pass your classes, you can buy that outfit as a gift for passing your classes.
Online classes make it desirable to cheat on quizzes and tests. “Hey, there’s no instructor around, how would they know?” is what you’d probably think. Honestly, you have to think about how it’s going to actually benefit you in the long run if you decide to cheat. Even though I was in design school, textbook work had always been one of my strengths. I went through all the reading, took notes, reviewed them, and did well on the quizzes. Using shortcuts and finding the easy way out always bit me in the butt, and I learned that no matter how tiny or relevant something is to achieve my goal, I don’t mind gaining additional knowledge and experience the honest way.
One of the reasons why I avoided taking online classes before was that I was worried I wouldn’t learn as much as I would in onsite classes. When I began taking them, I was surprised at how engaging instructors were when providing feedback and being active in class. The reading materials provided me majority of the information I needed to learn, even though I’d sometimes have to do further research online. I also enjoyed reading the lessons provided online than ones from a textbook. Plus, videos within the readings also helped me understand the module better. For the most part, however, it was just as easy approaching my instructors with any help I needed as it was if I were in an onsite environment. My peers also showcased kindness and respect throughout the semester, and provided helpful feedback. The LMS was easy to navigate through as well.
1 | Online classes come in handy, especially for those who would have to commute long distances or work long, irregular shifts. If you haven’t taken an online class before, I suggest giving it a try. If you still don’t like it, then it’s okay. Take classes that fit your learning style. Below are some extra tips for taking any kind of online class.
2 | Treat online classes as if you were in an onsite class. Just because the instructor and your peers aren’t physically with you doesn’t make the class any less important. Do your readings, take your quizzes, participate in discussions, and give your all to your assignments.
3 | If you’re in a different time zone from your school, set up your laptop/phone/clock time to match your school’s time, at least the day off and before you have to attend your virtual classroom. You can switch them back on days you don’t have your virtual class.
4 | Use the first day of each module to complete your readings. Take notes and study a bit in order to also complete your quiz/test. Go through your discussion topics and assignments to prepare for the week ahead.
5 | A monthly planner is still helpful for online classes. Use it to write down your assignments, and place them where you can easily see them.
6 | Set up a daily schedule for each week, where you focus on certain parts of your assignments. Each day, get at least 1-2 hours of work done per class.
Productive Weekly Class Planner
Monday – Begin the required readings, take notes, and skim through discussion topics and assignments. Optional: Take the quiz.
Tuesday – Review materials & take the quiz if haven’t done so. Begin writing discussion responses and working on assignments.
Wednesday – Review and post to the discussion forum and continue working on assignments.
Thursday – Continue working on assignments.
Friday – Continue working on assignments and begin responding to posts.
Saturday – Continue responding to posts, and finish up assignments.
Sunday – Finish responding to posts, and review and submit assignments.
7 | Create a study space and stay organized. Include all your class supplies, a laptop, a couple of snacks, and water. Sticky notes and planners are great ways to keep up with due dates and assignments.
8 | Have a backup station for when your Wi-Fi suddenly stops working and you need to go somewhere else to get your work done.
9 | If you live with others and you’re preparing for a quiz or in need of complete silence, inform your housemates and request a specific time for a quiet environment.
10 | Let your instructors know by message if you’re struggling or will be submitting assignments late. Explain to them what’s going on and most of the time, they’ll be understanding and together you will figure out what to do to help you.
11 | Be kind and respectful.
As much as I love onsite classes, I would not mind taking more online classes in the future.
In fact, I plan on being a full-time online student once I work on my Master’s Degree.
If you have taken online or virtual classes before, what are some of the things you liked and disliked about either one?