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How To Stay Focused During Online Classes
Following up on my previous post on tips for preparing for online law classes, here are some tips on what to do during distance education.
Tips For Taking Online Classes
2. Take active notes. I find that many of my students sit back and think they can absorb the material in class without taking notes, as if the class were a TV show. It’s not (or of course). The best way to keep your brain active and connected is to take notes during class, whether it’s a synchronous or asynchronous session. Consider opening a Google Doc and sharing notes with a friend during class.
3. Cameras enabled; microphones are disabled. If you’re taking a synchronous class, turn on the camera and mute the microphone. If the delivery platform has a “hand raise” feature, use it. Push yourself to participate more than you would in private lessons.
You might be thinking, “I don’t want to turn on my camera. I’m not looking my best.” Nobody does; I see. But turning on the camera is the way we say to each other. “We are all together. That’s what I’m here for.”
4. Be physically and cognitively present. Concentrating for long online classes is difficult, for some people more so than concentrating in traditional classes. If you’re learning asynchronously and can stop the recording to move every 20 minutes or so, do it. If the class is synchronous, I totally understand if students need to leave the “class” for personal reasons. Take care of whatever needs your attention and get back to work ready. Although many schools are returning to in-person learning, virtual classes aren’t going away anytime soon. From social distancing to the growing popularity of online degrees, finding new virtual learning methods and tips is paramount for students moving forward.
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So I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and tips on staying focused based on personal experience.
In school, I always thought that being a good student meant sitting in front, following the teacher and taking notes diligently. In practice, however, I found that I was more
In order to focus on the lecture, I paid less attention. I found ways around this problem like snacking, drinking water, doodling, and taking bathroom breaks to stretch my legs. But there weren’t many “polite” options to keep me in the present, and as soon as I sat back down and looked closely, my mind would wander.
I was halfway through my last semester of college when COVID-19 hit. At first, online classes seemed like a recipe for constant distraction. Most of my classes didn’t require students to have their cameras turned on (especially the older ones), and the temptation to play on their phones, work on unrelated homework, or surf the Internet was just too great.
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But I soon realized that online classes offer a unique opportunity for anxious and unconventional learners. There are many ways to optimize your space for learning, and there are many things you can do in your own room that you can’t do in a classroom.
Some of these ideas may seem a little strange, but they worked well for me, and they may work for you too.
Keep in mind that some of these suggestions won’t work for classes where you need to keep your webcam (or microphone) turned on. But I tried to find a few solutions and maybe you will too.
At the beginning of the lockdown, I had a really hard time motivating myself to exercise. The weather was still so bad that regular walks or runs were unattractive, and gyms were closed. Stopping at the gym on the way home from class or automatically walking the 12,000 steps around campus was no longer convenient. When I wasn’t in class, I was working on homework or projects and doing a very poor job of making time for exercise.
How To Stay Focused On Online Classes
I had a set of 5-pound weights next to my desk that I occasionally took to class to do some bicep curls, and I had resistance bands and a yoga mat that I didn’t really use at all. A few weeks later, an idea occurred to me. If I could do bicep curls in class, none the wiser, why couldn’t I do a real workout?
So before my next class, I found a Pilates/strength workout with resistance bands that looked fun. I put my yoga mat on the floor with my laptop on edge and turned the volume up so I wasn’t wearing headphones. And… I got a full workout in class. My attention span was amazing and I was able to retain the lesson for my homework. It was the first lesson I didn’t have to watch again afterwards (they were recorded) and I found this method to be a huge success.
I have always had a hard time keeping up in class. Generally, if I’m taking notes, I’m not paying attention to the lecture, and if I’m paying attention to the lecture, I’m not taking notes. This means that in classes followed by labs or assignments, I usually can’t remember what I’m supposed to do. For these reasons, professors recording virtual classes ended up being a godsend for me.
Labs and assignments became much easier for me when I was able to go back and take proper notes, interrupt lectures to figure things out, draw diagrams, and just catch up. Having great notes to guide me through assignments, labs, and studying helped my grades a lot and I was able to get a lot more out of class than I had before.
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Fluorescent lighting? Distracting small voices? It drives you crazy at school when all the ceiling lights are on and someone leaves the door open so you can hear giggles and footsteps in the hallway. It certainly bothers me.
Fortunately, when you work at home, you can optimize your space to feel more comfortable and focused. Here are some examples.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I remember hearing that some teachers were not allowing students to eat during their online classes. I thought this was hilarious, as did a lot of other people apparently, and the trend seems to have mostly died out. Of course, I remember being at a school where many teachers only allowed students to eat during the designated “snack time”, so I kind of understand where they’re coming from. But if there’s one thing I learned in college, it’s that eating in class actually helps you focus.
A few years ago, I did an internship at a large research institution. On my first day, the program manager told us that when we have meetings or conferences, we should bring a snack to help us focus. He said no matter how formal it is or who else has been there, the most important thing is to focus and retain the information presented, and the best way to do that is through a snack. He was right.
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During PE, I would pack light snacks for class, like grapes, PB&J, bagels, or fruit snacks. However, if your online class allows you to gag yourself, you have the option to snack all you want. Choosing a nice, light snack may work best because you can keep it for a long time. And as a bonus, if you’ve been in an environment with allergies like peanuts, now you can actually snack on peanuts, other nuts, or seeds during class.
On another note, staying hydrated is extremely important for concentration, and drinking water can have the same effect as eating a snack. So always keep a glass of water or a water bottle near your work area.
This really applies to individual courses as well. Obviously, you can’t just leave class every five minutes to walk the halls. But getting up and taking a bathroom break when you start feeling foggy can actually help a lot. And the same goes for home.
Of course, I don’t know what the rules are about bathroom breaks in your online class (whether you need permission or maybe you need to take turns), but chances are you’re allowed to use the bathroom every so often, and you might want to take advantage of it.
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Also, if your teacher or professor gives you a break, actually get up and move as you are told. You might think that checking your emails on your phone is enough of a break, but chances are your brain isn’t. Even just standing up for a few minutes will probably make you feel a lot better.
Being stuck at home sucks, but there are still some
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