In a regular year, now would be the time for back-to-school sales, moving into dorm rooms or new apartments, and wondering where the summer has gone. 2020 is anything but regular. Back to school shopping is now for masks and students instead are settling into the new normal of online classes and virtual classrooms.

While some schools and universities are approaching a hybrid situation, for the most part classes are going to be online, and we might have to be staring at our screens for a while at least.

As a college student myself (and especially an international student), I am grateful for online classes, but I also admit that online classes are hard. Remote learning asks for a lot of commitment, without really offering much accountability. Zoom fatigue is very real, there’s no casual conversations with your classmates before class starts to lighten up the mood, and let’s face it, studying from home is an enticing trap to most. Not to mention that not everyone has an ideal home environment for remote learning.

But as your self appointed virtual assistant – insert my best Siri impression – let me tell you some of my tips for successful remote learning. I am sure you have already heard about making a routine and taking a break from multiple articles and TikToks already, so here are some tips that no one’s telling you about; five specific ideas that have helped me with my classes:

1. Have cheat days

What is a routine if you don’t cheat it once in a while? It’s important to have a set routine, definitely, but it’s absolutely necessary to take breaks. Have a day to take a break from all your classes, set up Netflix watch parties with friends – virtually, of course – and treat yourself after an assignment or exam.

Yes, listen to those popular advice that tell you to wake up in time and go to sleep at a designated time, but is a college student a college student if they aren’t sleep deprived? It’s great to have a schedule, but it’s important to check if it’s practical, and if it’s not working, switch things up! Lessen your load – drop that class without feeling guilty about it – and mix up the activities you do in a single day.

2. Have a comfortable study space

Have a study space, yes. And make sure your study space is not your bed, yes. But a study space is no good if you have back pain from sitting in an uncomfortable chair for hours.

Make your study space pleasant and comfortable. Have a comfy chair, try to have pictures of your friends and favorite pre-pandemic activities, even places you’d like to visit after all of this is over. Have a blanket nearby, throw in a pillow for your back, make sure to stretch once in a while, and set up your space somewhere with ample light – if not, get a cute lamp! – and air. Next to a window? Perfect.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the privilege to be able to have the ideal space and we understand that. So even if it’s your kitchen table, your porch, or your basement, what matters is making the space yours. If you can, keep switching up your spaces too, as much as social distancing allows. Try to go outside and pick a spot where you can study without being in contact with too many people.

3. Diversify your tech intake

Your computer is going to be your gateway to the world for a while but not everything has to be done on the same device. If you have the means, try to use a different device to read your coursework. If you can, print your readings and mark them up. Take physical notes (you know what they say about writing things down and retention rates), doodle on them, and write funny comments.

If you can, get physical textbooks, and if you cannot, get audiobooks! Last year I started to purchase audiobook versions of textbooks, and I swear it was life changing. Apps like Audible give you the option to change speed, book mark, or “clip” sections, and some books on Amazon give you the option to both read and listen to it at the same time!

4. Accountability is key

One of the biggest setbacks of online classes is that there’s less pressure on accountability so it’s necessary to set up ways to keep yourself on track.

If you have zoom classes, keep your video on, participate as you would during a regular class. Keep your phone aside, and if you need a little extra help to reign the temptation to check you phone every once in a while, try productivity apps that require you to keep you phone locked for a designated time period. (My go to is FOREST, the app grows a plant when you are productive, and the graphics are so cute).

If you usually study with friends, set up zoom study dates, or share your deadlines so you can keep each other accountable. A planner is a godsend at this time, so use a paper planner or keep track of deadlines through an app or your phone calendar.

5. Ask for help

I’ll repeat once again: online classes are HARD, and your professors know this. Do not hesitate to ask help, whether it’s clarification questions, extension for deadlines, or help with an assignment. Try to reach out to your professor – especially if you don’t know them – and introduce yourself through email or video call and create a relationship so they know you.

Of course don’t unload all your dirty laundry on a teacher, but explain your situation. Chances are they are going to be understanding. Remember that this is an uncertain time for everybody, and you are so brave and smart for even being able to study during the chaotic timeline we are in.

Those are the tips that work for me personally, but hey we all learn differently! In the end, all that matters is that you should practice self care, and be kind to and proud of yourself. This is going to be a strange semester, but you’ve got this, and let’s conquer those online classes from Zoom University together.

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  • Mishma Nixon

    Mishma is originally from Sri Lanka, and is currently an undergraduate student at The University of Iowa. Majoring in English and Creative Writing with minors in Cinema and Social Justice, she hopes to create diverse and inclusive children's stories that she has always wanted to see. She is a textbook Hufflepuff who's obsessed with antiheroes/villains, Brooklyn 99, tea and 80's teen movies.