Voices | Seven Tips on How to Show up to Class Online

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college student with laptop
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By Sara Evangelista

Distance learning has become the norm since the outbreak of COVID-19 around the world, and many college students are struggling to adapt.


As the program director at Johns Hopkins University Hillel, I’ve heard from students who are anxious about completing their academic courses in this new format. Some have wondered if they and their professors can maintain a high standard of academia in a virtual setting. Others have voiced concern about how their lab work, artistic studies, and other kinetic learning will translate in a digital space with little to no warning or transition.

I’ve been an online student for over two years, and I understand their struggles. After completing my master’s program online, I received a degree in Jewish education from The Jewish Theological Seminary. Now, I’m back to virtual learning one course at a time as I work on my certificate in nonprofit management through the Harvard Extension School.


Along the way, I’ve learned how to transition from in-person to online education. Here are my seven suggestions on how to be “present” in your virtual courses and get the most out of our new education normal:

1. Stick with your daily routine as much as possible.

Prepare as if you’re going to your in-person class. If you usually bring your water bottle, coffee, or snack bar, do that. Keep your textbooks or notebooks within reach so you don’t need to grab them during the middle of class. If you usually take a lunch break between classes, use that time to eat, regroup, and then log on to your next class. Taking these steps will help you feel more focused.

2. Become a Zoom expert.

Make sure you know how to use Zoom and any other online platforms you’ll need. Download these programs, test your camera and microphone, and become comfortable muting and unmuting yourself. Remember to be patient with your professors. They might not adjust to using this technology as fast as you will. And be sure to have the best security measures in place, such as passwords for calls, to avoid unwanted visitors.

3. Use multiple screens or print out materials.

On a standard laptop, it’s easy to become distracted managing Zoom, your own notes, and class readings. If possible, use an iPad or phone to run Zoom so you can take notes on your laptop or print out your class materials to free up space. If neither is an option, split screen mode is your best friend.

4. You must participate to be seen.

Professors can’t see you taking notes, or whether you look interested in the subject. You can’t sit in the front row and raise your hand. To show you’re prepared, complete the work and speak up. Answering questions in the chat box and using your voice will let your professors know you’re paying attention. If something is unclear, communicate with a peer or professor.

6. If you wouldn’t do it in class, don’t do it on Zoom.

Chatting with your roommate, answering phone calls, and scrolling through Instagram can all be done after class ends. Try to stay focused on learning by shutting your door. You can also turn off your phone or leave it in another room. You’ll have plenty of time outside of class to catch up with your friends and family.

7. Be adaptable.

Be prepared for a shift in the way professors use your time. Because you’re losing face-to-face interactions, professors might give you more individual work, such as reading or problem sets. Stay on top of these assignments and know your professors are just trying to supplement the valuable class time. If changes are made to assignments or grading systems, know some of your peers are having different experiences with the pandemic depending on their living situation, socioeconomic status, or the health of their loved ones, so be understanding of decisions made to adjust and accommodate.

Quickly transitioning to a new way of learning can be challenging. These tips made my transition to online education a little easier, and I hope they’ll do the same for you.

Sara Evangelista is the program director at Hopkins Hillel.

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