For most students, the switch to virtual learning last spring was unexpected. Now, students must once again find ways to learn within the online format. Faculty at the University of Wisconsin gave tips on how to set yourself up for success during an online semester.

Organization

UW’s Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning John Zumbrunnen said the challenges faced by students learning under a virtual format are going to be very similar to those seen before. Zumbrunnen encouraged students to practice organization and time management by looking at what worked previously for in-person classes. 

Zumbrunnen said students’ virtual courses may be asynchronous, meaning online lectures do not need to be attended at the time they are taught. In this case, Zumbrunnen said to create a set schedule for yourself to “attend” the lecture as if it were happening in person. 

“Creating a schedule for yourself to replace what might be missing is the first thing I would do,” Zumbrunnen said. 

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Zumbrunnen said there are many ways to make a student’s calendar. Calendar apps are viable options, but so is a pen and paper.

University Health Services published a helpful online Excel sheet template students can use. This allows students to block off portions of their day in an easy to use format. 

Zumbrunnen said prioritization in students’ planning process is key. Take tasks that need to be done and divide them into levels of importance. This way, focus can be spent on what is immediately relevant while not being sidetracked by tasks that might be less important at the time.

Understand how the course is taught

The Assistant Director of Teaching and Learning from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Janice Mertes said they give their instructors the 70/30 rule. This means an instructor has to invest 30% of their time explaining to their student how the course is to be taught. 

Mertes advises students make sure they understand the course structure and how to succeed in the course before diving into the material.

Give your eyes a break

Mertes said scheduling breaks from computer screens is crucial, adding it may be beneficial for students to do things like play an instrument, read a book or exercise when not in class.

“Limit screen time with eyes, schools are very cognizant of the amount of minutes students are scheduled online,” Mertes said.

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Avoid multitasking

Zumbrunnen said trying to multitask is not a problem unique to students, it happens to everyone.

A good strategy to use is blocking off times for things that might be considered distractions, Zumbrunnen said.

Knowing you may have time later in the day to indulge in your favorite Netflix show or do some scrolling on Instagram will hopefully give you the self-discipline to avoid them during study time, Zumbrunnen said.

Note-taking

Zumbrunnen said there is research that indicates taking notes live during a lecture may help with the retention of knowledge.

Zumbrunnen also said though this may help, a student needs to find what works best for them. Additionally, a benefit of live and recorded lectures means students can take notes as the lecture is happening, and later go back to fill in whatever they missed.

“I think the virtual approach will give students more options, and that’s good,” Zumbrunnen said. 

Ask for help

Zumbrunnen said students get in trouble when they start to fall behind, and this is amplified by students failing to reach out for help. Zumbrunnen said to never be afraid to ask for help from instructors.

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“I remember having a little anxiety reaching out to faculty members,” Zumbrunnen said. “Faculty members miss that interaction, we miss being able to connect with students in the classroom. A Microsoft Teams interaction may be a replacement for that.”

Zumbrunnen also said turning to academic advisors can help get students on the right path to utilize school resources. Academic advisors have the knowledge to turn students to tutoring services like Greater University Tutoring Service and other helpful resources on campus.

Zumbrunnen said though this is always the case, more students may be facing personal challenges. Paying attention to mental health is important to succeeding in a virtual school format. Zumbrunnen said it’s appropriate to reach out to instructors if you are feeling impacted by your mental health.

“In this time it’s important to monitor not only how we are doing with academic and time management skills but also making sure how we are taking care of our stresses and anxiety,” Zumbrunnen said. “We’re all in this together, the more students come out with challenges they are facing, the more we can help.”