Zoom and Me: Tips and Tricks for Online Classes

With the first week of Southern Oregon University’s remote delivery of classes done, many students are finding it hard to stay motivated or keep up with their classes. In these rather stressful and confusing times, it can be hard to keep afloat in terms of course work, as well as working in a different environment than they are used to. 

Forbes gives nine tips to help with online classes, some of which include “planning ahead,” knowing that the “instructors and teachers are nervous about this new situation as well,” and “having realistic expectations for ourselves in terms of online learning” (Forbes.com).

The Siskiyou spoke with Britney Sharp, Student Body President of the Associated Students of Southern Oregon University (ASSOU), about ways students can stay focused and motivated during these uncertain times. One thing Sharp does to stay on task is putting sticky notes on or near her computer monitor. “Because we’re always at our computers now, putting the sticky notes there can be more impactful than keeping a planner because they’re right there,” she explained. 

Sharp also suggests looking at the long run to help with motivation, especially in terms of grades. “Setting a course as pass/no pass impacts your GPA, especially upperclassmen…a lot of jobs post-college will look at the grades for classes specific to the job,” Sharp said.

Andrew Gay, a professor in the Digital Cinema department and chair of the faculty senate, also spoke with the Siskiyou about tips to help students keep on task. He shared that it is essential to acknowledge these negative emotions and feelings in regards to this current system. “I don’t think it is particularly healthy for anyone to place undue pressure to gin up motivation just because they feel obligated to be productive.” Gay said. However, that does not mean that students can slack off or ignore their duties; they’re still going to school. “If you feel ready to move from grief to motivation, I think it is important for you to find a purpose in your work.” For example, he talks about not feeling motivated to update the Moodle page for one of his classes, but what motivates him is “offering [his] students what is hopefully a simple, consistent, and comforting way to access material that is useful to them.” 

In regards to Zoom, the main application many teachers are using to connect with students to comply with social distancing, there are many ethical factors students still have to keep in mind. “Mute your microphone on entry,” Sharp stated, “you don’t want random background noises distracting your peers and the teacher from the lesson.” Respecting your professors is incredibly essential–they are trying their best to keep that connection and teach the content. She also said to uphold the SOU Student Code of Conduct. “Don’t do things you wouldn’t do in in-person class, you’re still in school,” she emphasized. 

While students might want to use this application to waste time, Gay stressed that this is not recommended. “It is probably tempting for some students to treat their Zoom sessions like any other social platform…but I am hopeful that students will use this as an opportunity to cultivate a more professional digital presence,” he said. That does not mean students should wear business casual clothes, but instead should treat this new environment as a professional one. “Ethical Zoom use is pretty simple: be a good human.”

Staying on task when one doesn’t have have a tight schedule can be challenging (many students say that their usual two-days-a-week classes are only once a week, or are even hosting optional Zoom meetings). Sharp suggests setting aside time right after class to do the work can help students focus more on the work since it is still so fresh in their minds. She also advises students to work on something productive before classwork to get focused on learning. “Cleaning your room, tidying your workspace, walking your dog…getting some energy out before class or before doing homework can help,” Sharp said. 

Gay encourages students to set aside timers and fill out calendars (whether online or physical ones) to help them keep on track. “While I can’t speak for my colleagues across the university, I am hopeful that most faculty are being sensitive to the weird, semi-timeless universe we’re all living in,” he said. Gay also suggests that students should keep an open mind in terms of deadlines. “In my own classes, I am not terribly worried about deadlines for grading purposes but view them more as an opportunity for students to rediscover some sense of forward temporal movement.”

In many cases, students are taking their courses in places they aren’t used to doing schoolwork in, the situations in which can vary in different circumstances. Sharp urges students to use clear communication with the other people they are living with. “If you need to go to a different place for school or classes, going to a different room other than your bedroom, or even going outside, can help a lot,” she said. “Whatever you can do to lessen distractions.”

No matter what, it is always essential for students to reach out to their faculty. “Students who spend time engaging with faculty outside of class hours have better outcomes,” Gay stated. “I think that is especially true now, when it is so easy to feel disengaged and sliding into oblivion,” which can seem very frightening. Whether it’s scheduling Zoom office hours or sending them emails when one has questions, keeping that connection alive is crucial.

When asked if they had any final words for students, Sharp emphasized that “we are still here: student government, admin, everyone… we’re still a campus community.” She also urged students to take care of themselves in these tough times. “Rest, relax, enjoy this unique time while maintaining your schoolwork,” she said. “Make the best of the situation.” Gay urged students to keep in mind that their instructors are going through some of the same things, and are just as, if not more, frustrated. “We’re torn between our responsibility to teach you what you need to know, our obligation to measure and record what you learn, our desire to help you and make this tolerable, and our frustration with the challenges of a mode of instruction that most of us did not volunteer to adopt,” he shared. These hard times are putting a strain on many things in our lives, but it’s important to have humility, not just to ourselves but to each other. As a final word, Gay said, “The more students and faculty work together in patience and understanding, the better off we’ll all be.”

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