Conquering the Online Classroom: Tips from your Academic Advisor

The Fall 2020 semester is coming to an end, and the Spring 2021 semester looms on the horizon. For some students, this may have been the first time taking 4 to 5 online classes all at once. Other students may have taken online courses before but have never dealt with a pandemic and city-wide lockdowns at the same time.

This semester has been complicated, to say the least, and has tested limitations in patience, motivation, and what one may feel “capable” of doing. Fortunately, expectations and reality can align slightly as online classrooms will most likely continue into the new year, and students can feel prepared to return for the Spring 2021 semester.

As with any new semester, there may still be some hesitations about managing classes or doing well in an online course. Over the winter break, when students may otherwise be with family or shopping for the holidays, they may instead turn inward to reflect on the Spring 2021 semester and beyond and wonder how to manage and be successful in an online classroom. As your friendly, neighborhood academic advisor, here are a few tips to consider to help conquer the online classroom for 2021.

Tip #1: Study Your Student Portal

There are several resources that universities and colleges make available to students — maybe too many. Some resources might include degree audits, course planning tools, appointment schedulers, and GPA projection tools. Then there are the countless emails being sent out about student organizations to join on campus, study tips, scholarships to apply for, or making a tuition payment.

To help make sense of everything available and what service does what, take 20 minutes to log in to your student portal and click on every link on the page — every link for financial assistance, career counseling, academic resources, and even the link for updating a profile. Universities and colleges like to make changes, and they may not always announce the changes. So a link that was available before under “Degree Programs” may be changed to appear under the “Advising Resources” tab, for example.

Each link made available on the student portal serves a purpose and houses important information that will benefit your academic success in some way or another. Click every link, visit the webpages, and bookmark any tabs that may be useful or beneficial for the future. Learn your student portal and memorize where to find the different links that pertain to you and your success.

Some of the questions you plan to email your academic advisor later tonight may already be answered by looking through your student portal one more time.

Tip #2: Create a Plan

After reviewing your student portal:

  1. Create a plan for the semester.
  2. Whether it be a planner, a digital calendar in your phone, a digital calendar in your email, or a post-it note, use a planning system that works for you and your learning style.
  3. Identify each class you have registered for and plan out the day and time you will be taking each course.

Are there days that have more classes than others?

Plan in your work schedule, too, or any other commitments you expect to have throughout the semester. Doctor’s appointments, workdays, and any deadlines you need to remember. Pro-tip: plan the academic deadlines for the semester, including the last day to drop or withdraw from a class or add a course to your schedule.

Once a plan is created that includes both the academic and personal expectations, you will have a better understanding of the time commitments you need to have for each area of your life.

How many hours a day do you need to allot time to study? Is there room in your schedule to join an organization on campus or attend professional development meetings/webinars? Do you have open availability at least once a week to explore internship opportunities?

Identify any gaps in your schedule and create alternative plans of filling these spaces with professional development opportunities or a self-care routine. Make the most use of your time in advance, so you know you did not lose any when it passes.

Tip #3: Commit to Yourself

Once you have committed to a schedule that benefits you and your goals, commit to yourself to make these plans and goals happen. Find a space in your home, dorm room, or another personal area where you can work effectively. If you need to utilize Wi-Fi outside of where you live, plan out your transportation and how long you will need to use the public Wi-Fi.

It is important to consider that public restaurants or libraries may have their Internet connection time out, and you will need to log in multiple times (save your work often!)

Interruptions and distractions will happen, no matter the type of space you are using. Remember all of those support services you learned about in your student portal? Take advantage of these resources. Refer back to your notes, bookmarks, or planner type, see which services may benefit you the most, and then email that office to ask for more information. COVID-19 has clogged phone lines and inboxes, no doubt, so allow a few days for someone to get back to you. Support services are just that — supporting you in the ways you need them.

These services will be your accountability partner or outlet to use throughout the semester when you may begin to feel shaky in your progress or lose motivation. Use these services as another tool to utilize to help you reach your goals and be successful in your education. I can 100% guarantee that every office at your university or college wants you to succeed and are committed to making that happen.

But only you can make that dream a reality by committing to you every day, no matter what.

Tip #4: Find Your Support System

In Tip #3, support services were a part of the university or college. While support services tie into your support system, these do not comprise your whole support system.

Who else is in your corner? Who do you go to when you get a good grade on a test? Who do you talk to about your dreams or career goals? Who do you whisper your wildest dreams to?

The answers to these questions may be the same person, or it may be multiple people. Support systems will look different for everyone — family, friends, partners, significant others, teachers, coaches, academic advisors, high school counselors, co-workers, social media followers, neighbors, and even your favorite store clerk.

Find your go-to person or group of people who support you in every way possible. These individuals are a part of your support system and will be cheering you on every step of the way. Your support systems may be involved throughout your educational journey and may also be a part of your career journey and beyond. Grab that planner, digital calendar, or post-it note again, and write down all of the people who you want to include in your support system.

Whether it’s one person or 20 people, keep that list in a place where you will always see it. In this way, you will remember that someone is still there for you, even in the darkest of times or when you can no longer find any reason for what you are doing. Your support system will keep you grounded and moving toward the goals that matter the most to you.

Tip #5: Ask for Help

This last tip may be the easiest or hardest one on the list, but please do not skip it. If I could say a few things to every student who logs in to my Zoom calls, it would be something like:

Be brave. You matter, and your path toward reaching your goals matters.

Lately, I have seen many emails that begin with “I’m sorry to bother you, but…” or “I know you’re busy, but…” and I shake my head with a sad smile. I appreciate my students wanting to be mindful of my time, but I also do this work for them. I am an academic advisor for them, and my time is all for them.

Never be afraid to send an email or make a phone call to someone you think can help you. If that person cannot help you, then ask someone else who can. Whether it is someone in your support system, a support service on campus, or even a classmate, begin the process.

Your feelings are validated, especially right now with our tumultuous world and the many unknowns of the future. Whether you need help with tutoring, learning how to manage your time, or want to talk to someone, reach out and ask for help. Do not forget who you are and what matters most to you.

These tips come from my observations as an academic advisor. These are only recommendations and not meant to replace professional guidance you may have received in your life. The tips above should be used as a helpful guide in your path moving forward in your educational journey.

Conquer the online classroom in the new year, conquer your goals, and spread your dreams over infinite possibilities.

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