Finding Success in Virtual Education

By Sergio A. Lagunas @salagunas

In-person classes are the staple to traditional education. From preschool to senior year of high school, it is common to become conditioned to the scholastic environment of a classroom, desks, students, and a teacher. It is no surprise that when you are suddenly given a choice to take a college course online that you prefer not to enroll at all. As students, we perceive course instruction to be inspiring, interactive, engaging, and most important of all, in person.

An online education for some students is commonplace, as there are more options in the K-12 experience for taking courses through an independent study program or a state certified online school taught by real teachers in a virtual setting. Student opting to attend online K-12 schools may have the skills to adapt to an online or distance education. In previous years, students who would need this type of flexibility are young actors, performers, and students who need to travel for work or their parent’s occupation.

Independent study has also become an option for students who do not want to engage in the social setting in a classroom and want to focus on their education with a flexible schedule. Some universities, such as the University of California has their own course offerings for homeschooled or online students. The UC has created this option for students who are not able to enroll in college preparation courses at their local schools that they need to be competitive candidates for four-year universities.

While some students are ready to participate in distance learning, the majority of students enrolling in college may not have the necessary practice to acclimate to the virtual classroom. In my experience in distance learning, I have picked up some tools and resources to stay focused and disciplined with online courses. I have listed these tips below.

1. Download the syllabus

Yes. This is correct! Download the course syllabus so that you can arrange your time around each task, assignment, and required readings. Strategy is key for your success with online classes. A step further is printing the whole syllabus to get a kinetic experience out of the online class from the start. Some successful students have highlighted and made notes on the printed syllabus to plan ahead. Other students have dedicated a binder to print and keep copies of the syllabus and of each assignment to review without the use of a computer screen.

2. Use your online calendar

My favorite online calendar is Google Calendar, and you can choose the best one that works for you. What I like about Google Calendar is how you can create multiple calendars under one email account to designate each calendar to every class you enroll in for the semester or quarter at your school. This way, you can focus on one course calendar at a time by hiding other calendars on your screen. You want to add all of your assignments, tasks, and deadlines from each class and from the college. You may also add breaks, your work schedule, and time dedicated to other activities, such as exercise or self-care.

3. Ask for help

Students are often more successful when they ask for help. Most student affairs professionals will let you know that help is available, but students will need to ask for the help. In most cases this is what you will encounter, and it is your responsibility to seek help when you need it. You may have a simple question related to a class session or assignment, or your questions may be about deadlines, or perhaps about financial aid. Either way, the best advise would be to ask. Your professor should have designated office hours even for online courses, and student services at your campus should be available during business hours.

4. Use helpful apps

There are many helpful mobile apps that can make your student life more organized and successful. Life Hack has a great list of 25 apps for college students, and there are plenty of other sources claiming their top college apps for students. I have listed my favorite apps below.

5. Review with classmates

You may feel alone while attending online classes, but you are not on your own. You are free to make or join groups of students who are in your class to review notes and study for exams. There are several tools available to make this happen, such as Zoom, Google Meet, Facebook, and of course the online portal provided by your college (i.e. Canvas, Blackboard, etc.).

Overall, you can have a great and empowering experience attending online classes and navigating the distance learning world in college. Remember that every experience and every skill you learn while participating in virtual or in-person classrooms, you are learning more than the lessons and objectives.