Talking to college students, a few themes emerge:
- It is much harder to stay organized and keep track of assignments when classes are online
- Community is lacking in these courses and students don't know their classmates
- Courses are more self-paced, which requires more self-discipline to avoid falling behind
- Some professors do not make themselves accessible through zooms
All of these concerns and challenges are very real, and frankly, they suck. But there are a few things that you can do to make them suck less, or at least lessen their impact and succeed in spite of them. I'll tackle these challenges in a short series of blog posts, aimed at helping make online classes just a little less painful.
First, I'm going to tackle the challenge of staying organized in online classes, and I won't bury the lede. When it comes to keeping track of assignments for online classes, the key to success is actually exactly the same as it was for in-person classes. Read the syllabus. Print the syllabus and hang it on your wall. Frame the syllabus and hang it over your bed.
Here's the problem: professors are not necessarily any better at online classes than you are. Many professors have no experience, no idea, and no help with setting up an online class. They do not necessarily understand the user experience. Some professors might be putting discussion boards in one place, assignments in another place, and readings somewhere else; while other professors reliably use modules. Every class you take may be structured differently, according to how well or poorly the professor understands the learning management system and how much experience they have taking and teaching online classes. You cannot control any of this. But you can look at the syllabus, figure out what assignments are due when, and keep track of what you need and when you need to do it. In this sense, nothing has changed from when you took in-person classes. The syllabus is still God, and you can still put those deadlines on your personal calendar, keep track of readings, and find the class materials exactly the way you did before everything moved online.
If you are taking four online classes, and each class has a different method of online organization, posts assignments in different spots, and readings are scattered across hell and back, then don't rely on the LMS (canvas, blackboard, whatever) to tell you what to do.
Take charge! Here's how
- Find and download the syllabus for each class.
- Mark major deadlines on your preferred planner or calendar (I like my google calendar)
- Create reminders, alarms, and notifications. Whatever will help you keep track of these deadlines and remember them. (I actually started having Alexa remind me of one particular recurring zoom meeting that I have previously struggled to remember.)
- Readings may be harder to keep track of, this is why I recommend printing the syllabus for each class, and using that as a reliable way to keep track of assignments.
- If you're relying on a printed syllabus, update the information immediately (just write in sharpie) when you get an email or an announcement about a changed reading assignment or due date
- One the syllabus, or where ever you are keeping track of class information, you might also just write down where in the LMS to look for readings for each individual class.
- Ex: Accounting: Readings posted in "files" folder; Political Science: Readings posted to modules
- As you did with assignments, mark these on your calendar. Or at the least, highlight them on the syllabus so that you are sure you know where to find the information.
- If the professor doesn't hold regularly scheduled office hours or zoom meetings, don't be afraid to email and ask for an appointment. It is their job to meet with you, and you can ask for what you need.