Georgetown Explained

Georgetown Explained: How to be an online student

August 25, 2020

Illustration by Deborah Han

For hundreds of freshmen, this fall will be their first experience with college classes—and it will all be online.  The transition to Georgetown is already difficult; taking your first final or completing 150 pages of reading with your family in the next room was likely not how you were expecting to spend your first semester at Georgetown. 

While everyone is handling different obstacles this coming semester, whether it’s balancing a job with school or taking care of your family, this is going to be a challenging experience for all of us. Fortunately, for better or for worse, some of us have tried out online college before. As students who survived half a semester online, the Voice staff has come together to offer some collective advice on how to hopefully succeed in being an online student. 

Scheduling an online life

One of the hardest things to do last semester was to keep a schedule. Online learning can allow you too much control over what your day looks like, and it’s easy to fall into a haze where the days blend together and the only thing that’s different is whether you’re in “The Problem of God” or “Premodern Worlds: A History Through Literature and the Arts” at 12:30 p.m. With that in mind, keep a schedule for yourself! Try to wake up at the same time you would on a normal school day, as if you had to actually wear real clothes and take a 15-minute walk to the ICC. Make a routine for yourself, including sleep and meals, especially if you’re balancing more than just classes. Keeping a schedule and following a routine will help you concentrate and work, and you might feel a little better with some control.  

When you’re scheduling your day, be honest with yourself about when you are most productive. You are largely in charge of your schedule now, including how and when you work. Build time into your day both to work and to rest. That being said, if you are able to work with or around someone in your household who has a similar schedule as you, that’d be a good idea, especially since you have fewer fellow students to hold you accountable.

Of course, if you are not on D.C.’s time, then keeping up with classes and balancing work can be much more difficult. It’s harder to schedule a healthy life if you’re staying up until one in the morning to attend a lecture. If you can’t take your classes synchronously and are watching recorded videos on your own time, try to watch them during the day and not leave them to pile up. Schedule the time you watch them as if you were attending class at a normal time in your own time zone. 

Where you study

While everyone has a different home environment and workspace, and personal space can be limited, it’s important to try not to always study in the same place and change up your work environment as often as you can. One Voice staffer said it was especially helpful to switch it up at a milestone, such as finishing a project, assignment, or class. Working in the same environment for hours and hours on end may have seemed like a decent idea when there was a library, but it’s not the same when you’re in your room. 

As another staffer suggested, your workspace should not be your sleep space! Coming from someone who turned the camera off and slept through lectures all of April, going to class and studying in your bed is super comfortable, but it’s not the healthiest habit or place to study. If you don’t have access to another space, try a different spot in your room or somewhere you wouldn’t normally work! Unconventional quiet spaces are quiet spaces all the same. 

Working outside is a very popular tactic among the Voice staff. Try to get out at least once a day, and if you can work or take classes outside, even better. A local park can be a great spot to do some readings and take notes—just remember to be safe and stay socially distanced. 

How you study

How you study is just as important as where you study—you could be in a perfectly quiet environment and still not be studying in a way that helps you succeed. While studying with entirely online resources seems like the logical solution to online schooling, that’s not necessarily the case. 

Members of the Voice staff recommended taking paper notes instead of notes on your computer for classes, partly so you don’t get distracted by other tabs (side note: try not to have 20 tabs open at a time, it can get a little messy). It’s tempting to take typed notes since you’re already on your computer, but you’ll retain the information better if you handwrite it. Slow writers fear not—if anything, recorded lectures make it easier as you can easily go back and watch any parts of a class where you missed notes. So if possible, try to adjust yourself to that style of writing (and keep a binder to help organize notes)!

One Voice staffer suggested that if you like to listen to music while you study, have a separate playlist to use just for studying. Don’t combine your working music with your relaxing music. You want to give yourself different headspaces for study time and fun time, even if you can’t give yourself a different physical space. Additionally, if you want background noise that isn’t music, it can be helpful to join study Zoom calls with friends or peers and study together. Not only can it be more fun, but it also can keep you more accountable while studying than if you were on your own. Recreate Lau 2, and hopefully without the rats! 

Zoom class tips and rules

Zoom rule number one: remember to mute. It’s silly but it happens too often—you think you’re muted, you start humming or talking during lecture, and all of a sudden your “International Relations” professor hears you and awkwardly reminds the class to mute when not asking a question (or worse, singles you out in front of everybody else). Also, make sure the name and video on your Zoom are what you’d like them to be. If you were on a social Zoom the night before with friends and changed your name or put a silly filter on your camera, make sure to change all that back before attending lecture. One time I went to a discussion section with a unicorn horn filter on my camera and had to turn my camera off and pretend it was broken. I would not recommend it.

During class, we recommend turning your phone off or at least putting it on Do Not Disturb. Even though your professor can’t see your phone and it’s incredibly tempting, you will focus and learn better if you don’t have it constantly buzzing next to you during a discussion section or lecture. Essentially, try to act like you’re in-person—if you wouldn’t be on your phone while in-person with the professor, don’t do it over Zoom either.

One thing we can lose online is making friends in your classes. It may be a little awkward at first, but try to reach out to people in the same classes as you! If you like what they say in discussion or lecture, or you recognize them from a virtual club event, reach out and offer to study or work with them. It can seem scary in theory, but in practice, everyone’s in the same boat and just trying to survive this (hopefully singular) online semester. Try starting out with something simple, like a private message over Zoom and saying something nice about something they said in class. To quote a wise Voice staffer, it is only as awkward as you make it. 

Now about private messages over Zoom: as a general rule, be careful. We’ve all accidentally sent the wrong person the wrong private message, or accidentally sent it to the whole class. For making friends in class though, private messaging on Zoom can be essential, and it’ll have to happen at some point. Messages during a Zoom meeting are documented for the host on a transcript when the meeting is recorded, but that transcript should only record public messages and private messages between the host and other individuals. So assume there will be a transcript, but your private messages between you and your friend should be safe, according to Zoom

As for attending classes, if you can reasonably attend your Zoom class synchronously, do so! It can be hard to play catch up by watching all of your hour-or-longer lectures after they’ve happened. Of course, if you’re an international student many thousands of miles away, or on the West Coast with a 5 a.m. lecture, or it’s just difficult for you to attend, don’t make things harder for yourself. Professors should be recording lectures, and if they’re not, reach out and ask them to. 

If the content is difficult or you’re just having trouble in a class, go to office hours! They can be intimidating in person, and awkward online, but it’s worth it. Your professors are supposed to be there for you during this time—they understand that online school is confusing, and this experience is new for them as well. If you need help, reach out and ask. Of course, office hours can also be a great chance to talk with the professor about just something you found interesting—so use it as an opportunity to communicate problems, but that doesn’t have to be the only reason you should pay them a visit!

Healthy habits

Staying physically healthy is always important, but it’s especially crucial during a pandemic when a weakened immune system from lack of sleep or taking care of yourself can seriously hurt you. When you’re studying and working, make sure to take breaks, and please remember to eat! Light snacking during class is fine, but try to plan to cook meals and use that as a break so you’re not just eating junk food. A healthy eating schedule is important, and so is drinking water and staying hydrated (it’s easy to forget when you’re studying and in front of a computer all day).

Along with staying physically healthy, take care of your mental health as well. This is without a doubt a difficult and stressful time to be a student, even without taking classes in a new online environment. If online schooling is starting to deteriorate your mental well-being, consider getting outside help. It doesn’t need to be intimidating, and it can just mean emailing a TA or a professor and letting them know you’re having trouble. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it, and don’t put your mental health behind your academic success. Below are some mental health resources to consider utilizing if you need help, and linked here is our explainer piece on mental health resources at Georgetown.

Last but not least: in everything you do, put yourself first! Yes, your education is really important, but your health is even more crucial, especially right now.

Confidential Resources:

Health Education Services (HES):

Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS): (202) 687-6985; after hours, call (833) 960-3006 to reach Fonemed, a telehealth service; individuals may ask for the on-call CAPS clinician

Annabella Hoge
Annabella was a student in the college, class of 2023, who enjoys watching Dodger games, talking about her disco thesis, and drawing angry creatures. She was also the Spring 2023 Editor-in-Chief.

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