10 student-to-student tips for virtual classes

Remote learning is easier with these small adjustments

Denis Ram - 09 October 2020

Virtual classes are the new normal, and they contain plenty of challenges. New technology, altered schedules and juggling tasks are some of the hurdles of remote learning. The following tips can help.

  1. Use a second monitor

    Screen real estate is cut in half now that classes are online and you’re not just taking notes and pulling up readings but also viewing an instructor feed. Set up a second monitor as the dedicated classroom video chat screen to restore screen space on your primary device. This helps emulate what classrooms were like in person, with the teacher in front of you and your entire laptop screen available to you.

    A second monitor is also helpful when studying and can make writing papers with multiple sources easier to keep organized. Decent monitors run $100 to $200 new, while refurbished ones are available under $100.

  2. Plan your audio and video

    Your audio and video are how you interact with your class. Webcams should be positioned at eye level, but the typical use of laptops has cameras staring up users’ noses. Raise your laptop by stacking books or another booster under it. Lighting is important too. Light should fall on your face, not back-light you!

    Headphones help ensure there is no echo when you speak. If using wired headphones, make sure the microphone does not rub against clothing. Sound input and output controls can also be adjusted in some online platforms.

  3. Set up a dedicated class space

    Ideally, a space for online classes should be separated from the rest of the home — away from a playful pet or a talkative roommate. Having a dedicated class space also means backdrops during video chats can be planned. The room you are sitting in is a representation of you. Think about how you are presenting yourself to your classmates and adjust your background accordingly.

  4. Join student clubs

    During an in-person school year, clubs are a great way to expand social circles. Without in-person classes, clubs remain a top way to make new school friends. Some hold group video chats, others are good for discussing topics in class, and some are simply a networking tool for meeting others. The University of Alberta Faculty of Law has many clubs, with information posted online. Joining is sometimes as simple as sending a quick email.

  5. Think about your online persona

    Online social norms are always changing, so it is important to reflect on how interactions are being made. While the chat and reaction functions offer more flexibility than in-person classes, with students able to discuss topics and ask questions in a way never possible before, some students are more comfortable engaging online than others, so make sure everyone is getting an equal chance to communicate.

    Sometimes internet connections or unfamiliarity with technology mean other students need a minute before responding. If you consistently speak first, or hardly ever speak, make note of that and adjust.

  6. Optimize your internet

    A reliable internet connection is vital for remote learning. If your internet is lagging every few minutes, if no one can understand what you are saying, or if your internet is cutting out all the time, consider improving it. There are many discount internet service providers that offer reliable, high-speed internet for half the price of some larger providers. Many companies also offer student discounts. If you have slow internet that can’t be improved, ask your professor for a recording of the class that can be downloaded. This ensures you’ll view the class video without any lag.

    A wired connection can help minimize lag, but if there is a substantial difference between your wired and wireless internet, think about upgrading your wireless router. Wi-Fi extenders are another option to improve wireless internet if there are some dead spots in a home.

  7. Have a study plan

    Planning a study schedule helps reduce procrastination and increase productivity. Schedule blocks of time in the day dedicated exclusively to studying. It reduces the study load during exam season. Dressing for the day as you would have if classes were in person is another way to help you get into the zone.

  8. Stay healthy

    Keep the brain and body healthy by eating a balanced diet. A great part of remote classes is that lunches can be more than just a sandwich! Mental health is just as important, and the Faculty of Law has Mental Health & Wellness resources to help support students.

  9. Get a pet

    Pets help reduce the feeling of isolation and are great for improving mental health. Whether your companion is furry, fuzzy, scaly or slimy, a pet is always your number one fan! Some pets require more commitment than others, but whether you have a fish or puppy, your love and care will get you outside of your own head.

  10. Take UAlberta’s Learning Remotely eClass

    UAlberta offers a free class to all students that’s intended to help with the transition to online classes. It covers topics such as effective time management, online learning, online exams, and communication in a remote environment. It can help students at any comfort level improve the effectiveness of remote learning.

Denis Ram is a 3L at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law.