Tips for Learning in a Digital Environment

Schedule IconStudent Academic Resources understands the unique challenges that come along with learning online and are here to offer you full support as you continue your studies, whether on or off campus. Below are tips to help you complete your courses successfully and effectively, regardless of instruction mode.

  • Staying Organized

    Whether you are studying from home, a new living situation, or from your Wesleyan residence, re-organizing your coursework based on various instruction modes can be overwhelming. Understandably, you may find it difficult to use a routine which worked well previously.

    It can be helpful to approach the transition at the beginning of the semester with a new perspective and consider how you can make a routine work for you based on how the work from all your classes fits together into a weekly schedule. The first step starts with gathering course information:
    • How will course information be shared with the class?
    • Will lectures and discussions be live online and/or posted in discussion forums?
      • How often will you need to check Moodle?
      • Are there new programs / systems you will need to access?
    • What are the exam and assignment due dates and/or formats?

    The peer advisors have developed a tips page on getting and staying organized. While it’s likely you have materials and systems which have worked for you previously, read through the page and consider how to take each step as it relates to your current course formats.

  • Managing Your Environment

    Previously, going to each class, finding a place to study, and attending TA sessions or organizing a study group, required you to physically get each location and required time and movement. Attending courses, sessions, and groups online, usually from the same location you are completing all your work, means that you want your work space to be comfortable and conducive to learning.

    Here are some tips for creating a space conducive to working and learning online:
    • Set up your virtual workspace
      • Be sure that you are using a desk and chair combination that is comfortable for you, and be mindful of the lighting and ambient noise in your chosen location
      • Keep all your equipment (headphones, speakers, etc.) and materials (books, notes, etc.) close by, and have a place for them when not in use
      • Here is a helpful document on setting up your work area
    • Remove distractions during classes or “coursework time”
      • Avoid surfing the web by setting aside time for YouTube, social media, or online articles later
      • Having a hard time focusing? Use intense study sessions, combined with the Pomodoro Technique, to help you break down large chunks of time
      • Use a website blocker to help you avoid “wandering” to other sites during your scheduled study sessions
    • Keep your workspace tidy
      • Eat your meals away from your workspace (this also gives you a break from screen time)
      • Only have the material out that you are currently uses (material for other coursework can be placed neatly nearby, but away from your immediate workspace)
      • “Close-up shop” at the end of the day
        • Close extra tabs, browsers, and programs
        • Plug-in anything that needs charging
        • Put your course material away (close books, notebooks, stack or file papers, etc.)

    Additionally, when the physical space in which we are attending classes is the same location in which we virtually chat with friends, watch Disney+, or browse social media, the separation between academic and down time can get blurry (and we tend to be sedentary).

    Try an alternative:
    • Considering using your phone for social video sessions and walk around while catching up with friends
    • Take your computer to another location when using for personal or downtime activities (resist the urge to watch a show or catch up on social media from your work area)
    • Create separation between academic time and social/personal time by taking a short break between activities (get a glass of water, take a short walk indoors or outdoors, stretch for 3-5 minutes)
  • Managing Your Time

    Generally, students are encouraged to balance their class time throughout the week when selecting their courses (i.e. avoid taking 4 courses which meet on Mondays!). Creating a balanced schedule should also include consideration of the instruction mode for the courses. When selecting your courses, avoid a schedule which requires attending more than two Zoom lectures in one day.

    Our previously routines likely offered a great deal of structure to our daily schedules, and developing a routine which incorporates online classes and meetings can provide similar consistency if we are purposeful about the planning. The Rule of 7 is applicable, regardless of the format in which our meetings and commitments take place. If you feel overwhelmed with keeping yourself accountable to your courses and commitments, please see these helpful suggestions from our peer advisors on managing your time.

    If you notice you are struggling to attend your courses and meet assignment deadlines, and would like assistance managing priorities or developing a routing, schedule to meet with a peer advisor, Student Academic Resources, or your class dean. Additionally, take a look through tips from peer advisors on staying healthy and maintaining balance.

    All of the above suggestions and resources are important when considering how to manage your time for online coursework by:

    • Planning ahead
      • Create a routine which builds in a time for academic work in your designated workspace
      • Use a calendar to plan your time and keep track of assignments and tasks
      • Build in time for “administrative” task, such as checking your email, reviewing syllabi dates, and updating your calendar
      • If your faculty are holding any virtual office hours, mark these times in your calendar for reference
    • Avoiding multitasking
      • Focus on one task at a time, whether you’re studying for an exam, working on homework, reading, attending a class, or sending an email
      • Turn your phone off (or use airplane mode), and turn on your computer’s “do not disturb” setting, to avoid notifications which can attract your attention
      • If a thought pops into your head about something else “quick” that could be done, jot it down for later (or schedule it into your calendar for later)
    • Recognizing your accomplishments
      • Reward yourself after finishing a task or handing in an assignment
      • Schedule in time for reflection and updating (crossing-off) your to-do list
      • Do something you truly enjoy - read a book, watch a show, cook a nice meal, or even set up a virtual social meeting with friends
    • Maintaining a wellness routine
      • Get proper sleep - try to get to bed and wake up at the same time each day
      • Eat healthy meals throughout the day, and be sure you have access to healthy snacks
      • Schedule in time for exercise - if it’s helpful, get a group of friends on a video chat and do a yoga or dance video from YouTube
  • Managing Your Email

    Wesleyan’s official form of communication is email, so it is important to pay attention to your inbox. However, the number of emails we need to address each day can quickly consume a lot of time.

    Your email inbox may seem overwhelming. Focus on one small step at a time:
    • Schedule short blocks of time to spend on emails
    • Assess which can be deleted, which can be saved in a folder, and which need a response
    • Respond to one email at a time - opening and working on multiple drafts can prevent ANY emails from getting sent
    Still not sure where to start? Here are some tips from the peer advisors to help you manage your email as we get through this together.
  • Creating Virtual Study Groups

    Although the physical interactions between students in the classroom has be be reduced, there’s no reason why students should not form virtual connections to support one another academically and socially. As you continue to navigate the Zoom platform, you can use your Zoom account to set up meetings with classmates and friends.

    Here are some tips on setting up, and maintaining, an online study group:
    • Choose a meeting platform; some available options are:
    • Decide the purpose for the study group - check that everyone is on the same page
      • Are you studying for an exam?
      • Do you arrange to watch pre-recorded lectures together?
      • Should you do independent reading before the session to discuss the topic or theme?
    • Schedule regular meeting times and use calendar invites
      • A meeting invitation will appear for each member on their calendar in their set time zone - this helps prevent miscommunication
      • Having regular meetings gives your week structure
      • Check-in via text or email in between meetings to stay connected
    • Set a goal for each meeting and stay focused - do not use the study group for gossip and socializing (see below on scheduling social gatherings!)
      • Rotate who will be the group leader and timekeeper
      • Create a shared goal and expectations
      • Respect the leader/timekeeper when they redirect the group back to the study topic
      • Use a shared Google Drive or OneDrive folder for collaboration among group members
    • For more tips on studying (and study groups), see the tips page from the peer advisors
  • Making The Most of Video Lectures

    Careful listening and full engagement are essential to being successful within the classroom, and while we recommend you continue to apply these techniques in your virtual classrooms, we understand video lectures feel different than sitting in a classroom.

    Whether your instructor is using videos, pre-recorded lectures, annotated slides, or live Zoom sessions, these tips can help you to engage in the course:
    • Refer to the syllabus often and keep to the timeline
      • Sign in a few minutes early to live sessions
      • Pick a time that works for you to watch pre-recorded videos, and schedule consistent times that create a routine (mimic a class schedule as much as possible)
    • Find out how to ask questions to the instructor or TAs and speak up when you do have a question!
      • Is there a chat feature in a live session?
      • Can you post questions to a discussion board?
      • Are there virtual drop-in hours or do they prefer email?
    • Have course materials ready
      • Download any handouts ahead of time
      • Know where your digital materials are saved (and have them open if needed)
      • Have you book(s) nearby
    • Minimize distractions
      • Close other apps and tabs while you are interacting with your courses
      • Discuss with others you live with the time which you should not be interrupted
      • Close curtains and doors if possible
    • Take notes the way you normally do when sitting in a classroom
      • Have your note taking materials ready before the class or video begins
      • Continue using the same notebook or digital system you have used previously
    • Watch videos and recordings at their normal speed
      • Approach videos and pre-recorded lectures like a live class
      • Watch them through all the way
      • Take notes the way you would in class
  • Staying Connected

    The need for social distancing may feel unmanageable at times. Remember, we are all in this together, and we can build community through distance socialization.

    What if instead of “social distancing” we practiced “physical distancing”? We are continuing various classes, meetings, and sessions through “distance education”, so why not continue our friendships through “distance socialization”? Connection with our friends and peers, and the Wesleyan community, is more important now than ever.

    Here are some ways we can remain connected with each other:
    • Schedule connections with family and friends (and treat them the way you would a scheduled lunch date!); some available platforms are:
    • Attend or sign in to live classes whenever possible
      • Live interaction with your faculty and classmates helps us to keep a routine
      • Participate in online chat or discussion - engage as you would in class
    • Connect with classmates to form virtual study groups (see the tips above!)

    Remember, many Wesleyan offices and services remain available for students. Contact your class dean, Student Academic Resources, a peer advisor, or any ofthe many other offices page who are available to support you!