How to survive—and even thrive!—as a student in virtual setting

Above and beyond everything else, Washington and Lee prides itself on the quality of its learning experiences. Faculty are here because they enjoy working with students, and they love seeing their students rise into their best, most capable selves. Unfortunately, the current health crisis has resulted in many students finding themselves in “distanced” learning situations, at least some of the time, for at least some of their classes. Never fear! Learning can happen in virtual classes—it just takes some deliberate action on your part. By taking care to implement even just a few of the following tips, you can help to ensure that your learning experience remains both meaningful and lasting.

  1. Your professors remain your most powerful resource. Get to know them. Visit virtual office hours, just to say hi, to introduce yourself, and to ask any questions about the syllabus or the course. Don’t be shy about doing this; rest assured that professors know that the more they know you and you know them, the better the class will be.
  2. Shut down distractions. When on Zoom, it’s tempting to check Instagram just, you know, for a minute. And then, ten minutes later, it’s tempting to check again. And then again. Don’t. Part of what makes a class effective is that we lose ourselves in the flow of the discussion, the lecture, the learning. Anything that pulls us out of that not only distracts from information related to a particular moment, but makes it harder to get back into the flow of the conversation. So keep your Zoom window open, but shut down all other tabs. Put your phone on the other side of the room. Allow your in-class time to be a respite from all of the distractions of the day.
  3. Engage. Don’t just sit there. Ask questions. Contribute to the chat (if allowed). If you’re watching a video, jot questions you would ask were the session live. Put yourself in dialogue with the course material—what further examples would you offer? How might you apply some concept in a different setting? What contradictions or questions does the material seem to raise? Visit your professor’s office hour, or e-mail them with questions or ideas.
  4. Coordinate group chats. Once class is over, organize with classmates to go over the material, to ask questions, or just to do homework together, even if only connected through a screen. Find a way, in other words, to recreate the spontaneous conversations that happen in the hall before class, or in the cafeteria after a particularly challenging lecture. Processing course material with others will not only deepen your understanding of the material, but strengthen the sense of community among folks in the class. And stronger communities make better learning environments.
  5. Eat breakfast. Let’s face it: rolling out of bed and flipping on the computer just in time to meet with your class is tempting, but it probably doesn’t lead to your best work. So if possible, set your alarm, get up, shower, get some food, and show up fully awake. You’ve invested a lot in your education, and it’ll take you far. But only if your brain is functioning.
  6. Create structure and organize. On campus, we move from class to class, building to building in a predictable, timely way. Off campus, we . . . sit. As a consequence, time can feel squishy. Every day can feel the same. So build some structure into your day, and organize it on a daily calendar. Include meeting times and assignment due dates, meal times, time to exercise. Then stick to it.
  7. Reward yourself by getting outside. Go for a run. Walk the dog. Get some fresh air. Lose yourself in your thoughts. This gives your brain time to consolidate your learning, sifting and ordering and connecting. It also gives you some time to clear your head and remember the big picture. So reward yourself by getting out and breathing deep. This—the pandemic, the political strife, the stress of a strange semester—will pass. Be good to yourself.


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