By Angell Kim
This year is the golden year of online learning. After experiencing a virtual, week-long orientation and asking for advice from my fellow graduate school friends, I compiled a list of tips for you to apply if you are virtually attending graduate school or school, in general, this coming semester.
It is a time to reflect and to be honest about personal strengths and characteristics, be disciplined based on those strengths, and to ask yourself the following:
- Do you prefer to read material online with ease or do you prefer physical copies?
- Do you prefer studying alone or studying in groups?
- Do you write in a planner or set reminders on your email calendar?
After being honest with yourself, consider the following tips to guide you on your online learning journey!
1. Set a Schedule
I hear that time management is key to success, but what does that really entail? After knowing how best you organize yourself and understanding your school schedule and class syllabi, note the important dates of essays, tests, etc., write office hours for each class, and set up blocks of time to study for each class. Visualizing with your planner or calendar will guide you to keep you on track.
As you begin classes and are aware of your schedule and study blocks, begin each study block by listing out the tasks that you need to complete and then break up those tasks. This can be done on a weekly or daily basis. Breaking down tasks might look like completing half of the assignment today and the other half tomorrow. It can mean reading x number of pages today and another x number of pages each day after. It can also mean reviewing all that you read on a specific day or day(s) by rewriting or summing up notes. The idea is to break up tasks in reasonable ways for you to complete the entire assignment, reading, or studying for a test.
During that specific block of time, you will only focus on that subject. Do not multitask! In each block of time to study, make sure you put in a few breaks to stretch. For example, for every hour of studying, put in a 15 minute break to stretch, eat a snack, or surf the web, and after that break is up, get back to track studying.
You can also create a block of time to review topics where you can re-write notes, check your understanding, and repeat the main topics aloud or to your study groups to reinforce and retain information.
Set your schedule that takes into account how you like to work, and perhaps even consider setting one day of the week to just have a flexible day where you study however you desire so you are not constantly under a tight schedule.
2.Take Advantage of All Opportunities
When it comes to studying, collaboration is key. Take initiative to get to know your professors and teachers’ assistants and their office hours. Shoot them an email and introduce yourself to them and your peers. When you need help or have a question or doubt, reach out to them. Set blocks of time to communicate with your professors and teachers’ assistants on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to check-in. Office hours are meant to help you!
If you prefer studying in groups, take the initiative in creating groups and keeping in communication with them. Set times to get together to review and discuss themes and concepts. When you are confused or don’t understand something, talk about it with your peers! You all are trying to succeed!
3. Be Disciplined with Distractions
Studying on your own and at your home can lead to many distractions such as frequent visits to the kitchen to eat out of boredom, scrolling through social media, watching a show or show(s), and chatting with friends and family through messenger applications. Because these activities can take hours of your time away, you will have to be strict with yourself when it comes to these distractions. When setting a schedule, include breaks where you can relax, but stay focused on your schedule and study time so you don’t end up procrastinating on tasks or pulling all-nighters.
Another tip to keep in mind is to communicate with family members about your schedule so they are mindful of your studying routine. It is important to incorporate quality time with your family in your schedule and to set expectations with them so you are able to accomplish and complete tasks and also thoroughly enjoy quality time with family without having the anxieties of impending tasks looming over you.
4. Invest in Ergonomic Tools
What does ergonomic even mean? It describes tools that will help you be productive and comfortable while working. Some items that will be useful are a good, comfortable chair, a printer, and even a stand-up desk. You don’t need to spend a fortune because there are many options at second hand stores. Since learning online and studying involves primarily sitting, you will want to invest in a good chair that will best support your bottom, neck, and back! If you prefer reading physical documents or readings, a printer will be helpful. Perhaps even scoping out free printing services on campus for the more lengthy handouts will be wise. You are going to spend a lot of time inside and at home, so knowing how to make it a more comfortable environment to study and learn will be helpful.
5. Diversify Work Spaces
If you have the luxury of moving from one home space to another (patio or another room) that has a comfortable and tranquil working environment, moving around spaces will also help when studying and maintain sharp focus. For example, you might read or take notes outside, recite a presentation in a bathroom with a mirror, memorize concepts or vocabulary words in the living room, and then return to your bedroom to test yourself.
6. Take Good Care of Yourself
Sometimes prioritizing your to-do list will get in the way of your self-care and mental health. However, if you don’t prioritize yourself, you won’t be able to do much else for yourself. Do not forget to eat well, have a snack if you need it during breaks, and go outside. Staying inside has made us truly appreciative of nature and has emphasized the importance of self-care. What does self-care look like for you? What gives you peace of mind? Remember to know yourself and take action in taking care of yourself.
7. Take Breaks During Classes
Some of your classes will be “live-online” and you may have to turn on your video to show that you are present. If that is the case, make sure to take breaks during class. Turn off your video to get up to stretch your neck, back, and legs for a few minutes and then turn on your video again. Sitting for a straight hour or 1.5 hour is taxing. When you get sleepy, start dozing off, or maybe even do the sleeping head nod, turn off your video to stand up and maybe do a few jumping jacks to get the blood flowing and to become alert.
This year is going to be very different in the educational realm. Remember your professors and teachers’ assistants are also adapting to this change, so be appreciative and adaptive as we are all trying to navigate during this tough time. It is all doable. We just have to explore and try new strategies and techniques to learn this year!
Angell Kim graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Global Studies and a Minor in Latin American Studies. She is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Colombia (2016-2018), a 2020 Donald M. Payne International Development Fellow, and is a 2020 Paul D. Coverdell Fellow and MPA student at the University of Arizona.
© Victoria Johnson 2020, all rights reserved