SparkNotes Blog

How to Pass Your Online Classes

Everyone’s hoarding toilet paper. Sports have been abolished. I haven’t spoken to another human being face-to-face in five days. Is this a dystopian novel featuring a teen who is special and therefore destined to save us all? Sadly, no. This is just our strange new reality.

Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic (you may have heard of it), schools are taking to the Internet en masse, and so far it’s just been a trainwreck. I’ve seen professors accidentally hitting the mute button for entire lectures; I’ve seen 404 errors at critical junctures; I’ve seen cats running across keyboards causing chaos.

And while the prospect of virtual learning is ostensibly an appealing one—while it may sound nice to sit on the couch in your pajamas watching Disney+ in another tab while madness unfolds on Zoom—it’s worth noting that navigating a class without in-person direction is actually really hard. Here, then, are some tips for making the abrupt transition to online classes with minimal damage to your GPA.

1. Treat your online class like a normal class. Without the benefit of a classroom environment, it’s difficult to force your brain to recognize this time slot as “school” rather than “something to sit through.” Take a shower, put on some real pants, turn off your phone—whatever it takes to put yourself into work mode.

2. Take notes. Yes, even if the lecture is being recorded. If you want to really go crazy, take physical notes with a notebook and pen.

3. Mute your mic. Most video conferencing software—Zoom, BlueJeans, etc.—will have your mic turned on by default. Go to Audio Settings and rectify this situation so everyone in your lecture won’t have to hear you going to town on a hard-shell taco. (Conversely, make sure your mic’s not muted for discussion classes. You might have to speak into the mic a certain amount of times to get participation points.)

4. Create two user accounts on your laptop: one for school, and one for everything else. Since your academic life is now 100% online, it might be helpful to have a separate space to log into.

5. Remember to ask clarifying questions. You may not realize how many questions you have about the material until your professor is no longer there to answer them as they occur to you.

6. If you’re working from home (which you probably are since, you know, social distancing), try to find a dedicated work space. My suggestion? A quiet place that’s not your bed. Bonus points if you’re at a real table with a real chair.

7. If your professor goes to great lengths to explain the software you’ll be using, make sure you test everything out. It’s better to know what you’re doing before you need to.

8. If you experience technical issues, reach out to tech support rather than your professor. In all likelihood, your professor also has no idea what’s going on and is as clueless as you are. In a moment of crisis, it’s better to immediately contact someone who can definitely help rather than wait three hours just to receive an email that says, “Huh, that IS weird. Have you tried asking IT? Best, Kevin” five minutes before the assignment’s due.

9. Use a planner if you don’t already. Online courses remove a lot of structure from the learning process; you’re even more accountable for yourself than usual, and it’s easy to let due dates pass you by. Try a bullet journal, a Google calendar, or whichever app works for you. Use them in conjunction with one another. Switch things up when using one begins to feel stale.

10. Finally, you might be interested to learn that Zoom offers a feature called “attention tracking.” This means your professor could theoretically know when you’ve clicked away from the Zoom window for more than 30 seconds to, say, check your horoscope on Elle or watch teens on TikTok perform “We Didn’t Start the Fire” using only events from the last three months. Not that you would ever do that, of course! I’m just saying.