The University Network

Study Strategies For Online Classes — Interview With Rebecca Piety, Director Of Testing And Evaluation At UCF

TUN sits down with Rebecca Piety, director of the Student Academic Resource Center and the University Testing Center at the University of Central Florida, to discuss study strategies for online classes.

TUN: Rebecca, thanks so much for joining us.

PIETY: Thank you, Jackson, for having me. I appreciate it.

TUN: Before the term starts, what are some actions that students can take to give themselves a head start and set themselves up for success in their online classes?

PIETY: There are several strategies that we recommend to students to make sure that they’re positioning themselves in the best way possible to take online classes. 

One of the strategies that we tell students is to make sure that they’re thoroughly reviewing the syllabus before they get into that online class. Every class is set up differently. Even though the classes are online, the modalities can be different as well. So, it’s important to really read the syllabus so they can get an understanding of what learning management system is going to be used. Is there any specialized software or program? If the class is more technical, how do they access the class, and, again, what modality is going to be used?

We also encourage the students, in terms of the learning management systems, whether it’s Canvas, Blackboard or maybe another LMS, to really figure out how to navigate it before the class starts. They need to become familiar with it because they need to know how to review, submit and upload assignments. There’s nothing worse than having to submit an assignment late and either getting points taken off or getting a zero grade on it just because you weren’t familiar with the technology. So, we really encourage them to understand the learning management system prior to that first assignment coming due. 

And then, it might seem basic, but we also talk to students about making sure that they have the necessary technology to take the class, aside from the textbooks and materials that they would need for any in-person class.

We talk to students about making sure that they have stable and reliable internet connection, that they have access to a reliable computer and that they might even need a headset or earbuds, if they’re taking that class in a location where there might be some distractions or if they don’t want that conversation overheard by others.

Lastly, I think it’s important to get organized by mapping out the semester’s assignments. Using some type of planner or calendar is key for accountability in an online course. That’s something that they can do in advance. Start planning out those important due dates or deadlines.

TUN: Motivation is key to success in any class. Do you have any advice to help students stay motivated and productive even though they might be taking classes from the couch in their dorm rooms or their parents’ houses or apartments?

PIETY: Absolutely. Yeah, motivation is key. Students need to get out of that bed. They need to get up off of that couch. We would not recommend taking a class from either of those locations, even though it’s online.

Find a desk to work from. Find a table to work from. Find a really conducive environment for studying and taking that online class. Make sure that you’re connecting with peers when you are taking those classes. 

It can be difficult because everyone has been fairly isolated in this period of remote learning. So, motivate your peers. Connect with them. Build virtual study groups. It also helps with accountability to make sure that they’re staying on task. 

Students can connect through any variety of technologies. There’s so much available to them, whether it’s through that learning management system that they might be using, through Facebook, their university’s website, Google Hangouts, LinkedIn or GroupMe. 

There’s so much available to them so that they can connect and keep that motivation and accountability going. 

Additionally, they really need to think about their long-term and short-term goals. Why are they taking that class? How is that class going to help them either with their long-term or short-term goals, related not only to their education but their career goals as well? 

What can they learn from those classes and assignments that might keep them motivated and give them that little extra push to keep going?

Also, I think it’s important for students to set up a reward system in order to keep that motivation. If using their cell phones or surfing the internet is a big motivator for them, after studying for 30 minutes, take a 10-minute break. Go on your cell phone. Text your friends.

Play whatever game you like to play on your phone. But, it’s important to have that reward system in place. That can also help with motivation. 

TUN: Time management can also be a challenge for new remote learners. Typically, students are required to stick to a strict class schedule. Online, though, students often have much more control over when they complete their assignments. So, do you have any tips to help students effectively manage their time and stay on top of their studies?

PIETY: I think creating a routine is really key for time management. Use a planner or a calendar, whether it’s a paper copy or an online version, to set up that weekly schedule. Include your class times and be mindful of planning time to study. 

Outside of academics, meal breaks are good to plan. Nutrition is important as well. So, making sure that students are eating breakfast, lunch and dinner and planning for leisure time because those breaks and those rewards are important as well. 

Planning for exercise is a good idea. It’s important that we keep healthy during this time. We have to be intentional about taking those breaks to exercise, not only for our minds but our bodies as well.

Students should also be mindful about including notes in their planners about whatever other responsibilities that they have as well, whether it’s work or maybe other personal obligations that they might have. 

Also, it is important to set those reminders that I mentioned earlier for any major deadlines or due dates. Put those on a calendar or in a planner, so you know what the short-term deadlines are for the classes that you’re in and so that you’re aware of the bigger projects or research papers that are going to be due. You want to be able to chunk off little blocks of time to work on those larger projects. 

TUN: Do you have any additional tips as to how students can stay organized while taking online classes?

PIETY: Definitely. Specifically related to online classes, I would mention digital organization. 

Set up a folder system on your computer for each of your classes. Save your syllabus in that folder. You can do some digital color coding if that’s helpful. You can bookmark websites that you go to frequently, whether it’s your learning management system or other websites that you access. Having them easily accessible, so you’re not searching for them every time, would help you stay organized and just make the studying process more efficient.

Try using online tools, such as StayFocusd, to help reduce distractions. It’s wonderful that students can take classes online, but there are a lot of distractions with that too because you have Google and you can surf around the internet. So, using something like StayFocusd, which will help keep you off of those other sites that aren’t education-related, can be really helpful. 

Also, log onto the learning management system to review any new assignments or announcements that the professor may have posted. Do that on a routine basis just to make sure that you’re really staying on top of any deadlines that are upcoming.

TUN: What have we missed? Are there any additional study tips that would be useful for online learners?

PIETY: A common theme that we see with students is that they just simply wait too long to get help. My advice to students is to seek assistance early, at the beginning of the semester. 

All too often, we see that students wait to get help. Sometimes, they’ll wait until after that first test when that test grade maybe isn’t what they had hoped it would be. Really, they could have gotten the assistance in advance of that first test to get that high grade. 

I always tell students it’s much easier to maintain those high grades than it is to have that low grade and to have to work even harder to bring it back up to an A or a B. 

Also, seek help from academic support offices. There are many online resources available for tutoring, supplemental instruction, academic coaching, peer mentoring and academic success workshops that students can take advantage of. Again, take advantage of that early on. Don’t wait until later in the semester. 

I think one of the things that has been key for us is also encouraging students to check their emails regularly, at least once a day if not twice a day. Right now, email is one of the primary means of communicating with students. It’s really important that they check their emails and read their emails so they don’t miss any important announcements, information or updates for their classes. 

TUN: Thanks, Rebecca, for joining us today. 

PIETY: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me. 

This interview has been edited for clarity. Watch the full video here.