Being an online learner
By: Tory Dockree
Welcome to the final Monday Blog and the final week of the Academic Skills Prep Series!
September is quickly approaching, and with it comes the beginning of classes. As many of you may know, the upcoming term is going to take place online. While this will likely be a new experience for many of you, know that the skills you have developed during in-person classes are going to help you be a successful online learner.
While transitioning to online learning does require adjustments, it is important to remember that there are many benefits to this learning style. For example, I have found that online learning has allowed me to have more flexibility than my in-person classes typically did. This is because many of my lectures were pre-recorded, so I could engage with the content at my convenience. Online learning also required my professors to use different mediums than they normally would in order to communicate the course content. As a result, the information was presented in multiple forms and was more accessible to me as a learner.
The remainder of this blog will be dedicated to providing you with some tips and tricks to navigate different aspects of online learning.
Your physical workspace
Let’s begin by discussing the physical space where you will be working.
Organizing your learning area
A key part of online learning is finding a workspace. Here are some tips to make your workspace as effective as possible:
- Choose a dedicated workspace: Dedicating a space solely to work allows you to associate it with productivity and encourages you to get into the right frame of mind to do school work.
- Make sure the space around you is uncluttered, and that you have everything that you may need, like water and a snack. This helps reduce distractions and makes you less inclined to take breaks to do things like go to the kitchen and get a drink.
When doing work from home, there tend to be a lot more distractions than when you’re in the classroom. These distractions can come in many forms; maybe it’s a pet, a parent, a sibling, or a pile of dirty dishes. Either way, it can sometimes seem like there are so many things aside from your work that demand your attention. With that in mind, here are some tips that can help you stay focused.
- Log off of social media platforms and remove them from your browser shortcuts. This makes it harder to open social media and start scrolling.
- Communicate with anyone who will be home with you. By letting people know that you are in a tutorial or watching a class and don’t want to be disturbed, they will be less likely to come into your workspace and distract you from your learning.
Next, let’s consider how to communicate during online classes.
There are traditionally two ways for students to contact their professors: either by email or in person during their office hours. Both of these means of communication still exist during virtual classes, so here are some tips and tricks for communicating with your professors in each format.
Emails are one of the best ways to contact your professors. Emails are quick and easy, and professors can respond at their convenience. Here are a few things that you should know before emailing your instructor:
- Always follow your professor’s instructions for sending questions. If your professor has designated a space for questions, like a Q&A discussion thread, use this space for non-personal questions instead of email.
- Your professor’s email and contact information will be available on the syllabus.
- Always email from your McMaster email account.
- Professors will not respond if you use any other account.
- Check if your instructor has specific instructions for who you should email and for what.
- Professors sometimes prefer that students contact teaching assistants for questions concerning things like marking.
- The tone of your email should be professional, polite and respectful.
- Always address your professor by Dr. or Prof. and their last name, unless directed otherwise.
- Email your professor if you have any quick questions.
- If you have any longer questions, email them to book an appointment/attend their office hours.
If you have larger questions concerning course content or feel like you need to have a conversation with your professor about something that relates to the course, you can either book an appointment to meet with them or attend their office hours. Here are some tips for navigating these situations:
- Since fall classes are online, you will need to email your professors to book an appointment or secure a slot during their office hours.
- When meeting with a professor, always be polite and respectful.
- Address your professor using Dr. or Professor, unless told otherwise.
- Since you will be online, try to make sure that the space around you is quiet so that there aren’t any distractions.
- Always try to use the platform that the professor requests.
- Each instructor may request to meet in a different place such as Skype, Zoom, Teams, etc.
Connecting with peers
Classes may be taking place online, but there will still be many opportunities for you to academically engage with your peers. Here is some advice when chatting with other students in different online learning environments.
Discussion boards are a great way to engage with content and interact with other students in your courses. Depending on the class, discussion boards may be voluntary or count towards your mark; either way, they are beneficial.
- Offer a meaningful way to interact with your peers.
- Teach discussion skills.
- Allow you to practice your writing skills outside of larger assignments.
- Provide a space to learn from other students.
If you would like some tips on how to navigate discussion forums, be sure to check out this tip sheet:
Depending on your program, you will still need to complete group projects during the fall semester. Online classes will change how this type of collaboration will take place. If you would like some strategies to help navigate these new situations, tune into this Wednesday’s webinar:
Ultimately, online classes are quite different than the in-person courses that we may be used to. I, for one, had never taken an online course before last year — my third year of university. However, just because online learning environments are new or unfamiliar, doesn’t mean that you won’t be successful. As students, we already have many of the learning skills required to succeed as online learners. All we need to do is learn how to take the tools that we already have and apply them in new ways.
Enjoy the rest of your summer!
Don’t forget to check out our Webinar Wednesday and Feature Friday Webinar. Both go live at 5:30 p.m. (EST). Learn more about our webinars and contests by visiting the Academic Skills Prep Series page.
Don’t forget about our contest and grand prize! Write a 250–300-word response sharing what you found interesting and new in the Academic Skills Prep Series and how it may help you prepare you for your first year of university. Find more information on the contest by visiting the Academic Skills Prep Series page.
Tory is going into their fourth year of Arts & Science with a combination in Philosophy and currently works as a student staff in the Academic Skills area of the SSC.