University students faced unprecedented challenges in the first year of online classes. In the Fall of 2020, freshmen marked the beginning of their university career by spending the entire year in front of a computer, limiting the chances to meet new people. This contrasted the expectations of a normal freshman year, such as socializing between classes, going to office hours, and using university facilities. Similarly, upper-year students halted their progression in networking, as Covid-19 restrictions became an insurmountable obstacle towards getting to know other people.
This fall, the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) enters its second fully remote year. While UTM offers a few hybrid courses—a mix of in-person and online delivery methods—most classes will be online. Naturally, remote learning is no longer an unfamiliar concept to students. Yet, familiarity with this form of learning is in no way equivalent to succeeding in this learning environment.
Regular class participation, such as establishing a relationship with professors, improves students’ retention of learned concepts. But student participation and engagement in online and in-person settings remain one of the biggest challenges toward student success.
Online lectures magnify the issue of engagement in class discourses and other activities. Facing a computer screen makes it easier for students to zone out or doze off during class—especially if their camera is turned off.
Students’ reluctance to participate in online classes stems from varying reasons. Texting and other academically irrelevant activities distract students during class. As instructors can’t monitor students in online classes, technology has become a major distraction. Students may also be timid or shy about sharing their opinions, regardless of the class setting.
Failing to focus during class affects the learning experience, and everyone has slightly differing reasons that impede their focus. A simple, yet vital action students can take to maintain focus is to stay away from their bedroom while attending online lectures, thus lowering the chances of drowsiness. This especially holds true if students deem the subject of the lecture unappealing or complicated.
Maintaining adequate body posture is just as useful. In 2012, Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, best-selling author, and award-winning Harvard lecturer, gave a TED Talk presentation introducing the concept of power-posing. She defines “power-posing” as lifting one’s chin up while standing or sitting up straight—poses that improve confidence.
Additionally, Cuddy observed that students who actively participate in class regularly display powerful body poses. “You have people who are like caricatures of alphas,” explained Cuddy. “Coming into the room, they get right into the middle of [it] before class even starts, like they want to occupy space. When they sit down, they are spread out. They raise their hands [straight up].”
Cuddy concluded that people should try power-posing for two minutes before events of great importance. Every little bit adds up. Eventually, people will feel empowered, thus more likely to engage in activities when they were previously reluctant.
Later studies build upon Cuddy’s assertion, as they demonstrate that students who power-pose have increased participation rates. Of course, there are many contributing factors to participation. Solely attributing the increased participation rate to power-posing would be ill-advised. However, power-posing may improve students’ drive to participate in class, while having no real drawbacks.
Students who join a well-managed study group may also maximize their chances of success. Study groups with driven individuals can improve the academic performance of its members. To some students, study groups can provide much needed motivation to study, while allowing increased interactions with peers.
Study groups are teams where individual students join forces for the common goal of academic success. For this reason, complex topics are easier to understand when multiple students try comprehending them, helping each other throughout the process. Through this process, students may also grasp the importance of teamwork.
However, study groups with numerous distracted members can derail the desired outcome of success. As such, students should search for study groups that are conducive to their success. According to Florida National University, effective study groups should have a leader responsible for determining meeting locations, study times, and making sure the group stays on track. Group members must also be willing to collaborate with others, otherwise they lose the benefits of groupwork.
UTM offers facilitated study groups (FSGs) for some courses which can be an alternative to self-organized study groups. FSGs have a clearer focus on studies and maintain a regular schedule. They help students understand course concepts, preparing them for assessments and exams. FSGs give students the opportunity to consolidate their knowledge, while simultaneously making connections with peers in the same field of study, thus building up their own community of like-minded individuals.
There are numerous ways to assist students in succeeding in an online learning environment. But at the end of the day, students must be determined to do well and put in the effort as determination and dedication lead to success.
It is important to remember that even virtually, every moment at UTM is irreplaceable. There is so much to do, yet so little time. In the years leading up to graduation, students must work diligently, grasping opportunities to widen their horizons, and network with remarkable people.
Learning in an online setting is just one of many obstacles on the winding path of university life. So, let us brave this challenge like any other, trying our very best in our studies, and making the upcoming semester an impeccable and memorable one.