Is your professor using Zoom, WebX, or another online platform to teach your course live? Here are some best practices for presenting yourself professionally and having the best learning experience in your online classroom.
Test out Zoom with your computer before it’s time for class. Many universities give students access to Zoom, WebX, or other online classroom accounts. Set up that account in advance, and practice using it. Make sure that you have your computer set up properly: explore how to mute and unmute your microphone, activate your camera so that you show up in the class on video, raise your hand and use the chat features. Make sure your internet works properly with the platform, and fix any problems you identify before it’s time for class to begin.
Realize that you have a significant problem accessing the course online? Reach out in advance to your professor, your law school’s IT department, or the Dean of Students to identify solutions for those problems as soon as possible to ensure that you maintain access to the course materials and don’t fall behind.
Find a distraction-free environment for taking classes on Zoom or other platforms. It’s important to use these platforms in a distraction-free environment, so that you can focus on what your professor and fellow students are saying. Eliminate background noise in your own environment, such as the TV or music playing, people talking, or a dog barking. If you unmute your microphone to respond to a professor’s question or ask your own question, anything sound in the background will be picked up by your microphone. The best place is a quiet room where you can shut the door and not be interrupted. Don’t forget to tell anyone that you live with not to interrupt you during class time, and silence your phone as well.
Take your online class as seriously as you would if it were held in the law school classroom. Moving a class online doesn’t change your professor’s expectation of the level of preparation you have done in advance, your willingness to participate in class, or your ability to answer questions if you are called on. Engage in your online classes fully and be prepared to get the most out of them possible. Not only will you do better in that particular class and on the exam, but you will carry more knowledge and skills from that course into your other academic and professional endeavors.
Use a computer for live online classes, not a cell phone. Although a one-on-one Zoom/WebX meeting may be effective using the app on your phone, phones are really not useful for online classrooms. A cell phone is just too small to see Powerpoint slides, documents, or websites that your professor may share with the class through the platform, and some features are hard to find and use in the cell phone app.
Makesure youfollowappropriate online classetiquette. Sign in with video so classmates and your professor can see you. Keep your microphone muted unless your professor calls on you in class. Dress as you would for an in-person class, considering what you want your professional reputation to be. Be on time entering the class, stay engaged with the class for the entire time, and don’t leave the online classroom until your professor has ended class (unless you’ve told your professor in advance why you have to arrive late or leave early). Show respect for your professor and your fellow classmates by paying attention, just as you would in the physical classroom.
If you follow these best practices, you will set yourself up for getting the most out of those live online classes, and you will demonstrate your professionalism to your professor and fellow students.
Many law schools have made an abrupt shift from face-to-face to online instruction in the past week in response to the coronavirus outbreak, and more will be joining them in the upcoming days. These changes can be stressful for law students, and it is hard to stay focused on your studies in times of uncertainty. Today, I want to focus on six key strategies you can use for successful online learning. Implementing these strategies will help you get the most out of your studies, stay focused and motivated, and make sure that you continue to make progress on your academic and professional goals. And there is an added bonus – taking charge of your academic plan can also help reduce your stress in an uncertain time.
Strategy #1: Know the Facts. Check your email regularly (at least twice a day, but I recommend more often on days that you have online classes – your professor may communicate specific instructions to you before class time begins). Read every email coming from your university, your law school, and your professors carefully. Have classes been suspended while your law school prepares to transition to remote learning? If so, when do classes resume?
What format will each of your classes take, and what learning platforms or technology will your professors use? Make yourself familiar with them. Make sure that your computer is set up properly and that you can access class resources, video, etc. from home. If you identify any challenges that would make it difficult for you to access online learning materials, reach out as soon as possible to the Dean of Students at your law school, as well as your professors.
Will your classes be synchronous, held at the same time on line as they were regularly scheduled in the classroom, or will they be asynchronous, where material will be posted online for you to complete on your own schedule? Are there classes that will have to be made up because they were suspended during a transition period? If so, when and how will those classes take place?
Are your professors making any changes to course requirements or assignment dates? Make sure you are aware of any changes to your courses, and seek clarification if you are unsure of your professors’ expectations for online attendance, participation, or other requirements.
Strategy #2: Plan Your Days. Just because you are studying at home rather than at the law school, it doesn’t mean that you throw away your study schedule. To stay on track with what you need to learn and accomplish over the upcoming weeks, you must develop a study plan. But this isn’t something new – you already know how to do this. Think of your study and class schedule as a regular job that you have to do every day. Create a daily schedule, with blocks of time that you are “in class,” times that you are preparing for class or reviewing and synthesizing material after class, and time that you are working on other class assignments (such as those you may have for a legal writing course). Need an online template for creating your new study schedule? I really like Free College Schedule Maker, which allows you to break your schedule down into half hour increments, can be color coded, and expands to a 7-day schedule.
Don’t forget to include breaks in that schedule that you’re creating. Schedule regular breaks to get some exercise, take a walk outside in the sunshine, eat healthy meals, etc. When we are at school, we naturally move around more, and it’s important to keep that up at home – for your health and to maintain focus in your studies.
Strategy #3: Eliminate Distractions. If you don’t usually study at home, it will be easier to become distracted when you are trying to get work done. Look for ways to reduce or eliminate distractions, to the extent that it’s possible. Try to create a dedicated study space that is not in the main traffic zone if at all possible, and communicate the importance of not being interrupted to anyone that you live with. (Obviously if you have children, this may not be that simple! But think about what strategies you can use to create as much distraction-free time as possible.) Share your study schedule with friends and family so that they know when you need to be focused on your work, and ask them to text, call, or talk to you during the times that you’ve scheduled for breaks. Turn off the TV while you are trying to get work done as well.
Make sure that you avoid the distractions of texting and social media during your study blocks. There are some great apps out there to lock down your phone or computer when you want to study, such as Pocket Points, Forest, and Flipd, and if you have a hard time resisting the urge to check out social media or news outlets when you are studying, it is worth exploring them. (I’ll discuss more strategies for avoiding distraction in a later post.)
Strategy #4: Keep Priorities in Focus. The routine of going to law school every day helps to establish discipline and accountability, and you may feel less motivated without that structure in place to support you. But it’s important to keep your larger priorities in focus during this time, and make sure that your efforts reflect those priorities. Don’t reduce your efforts when no one is watching you. You are going to law school because your professional goals are important to you, and you need to remind yourself that these final weeks of the semester are still an opportunity to gain knowledge and skills that will help you achieve your academic and professional goals. For those who are graduating and taking the July bar exam, this is particularly important. Don’t lose momentum now, at this critical point.
Strategy #5: Stay Engaged with Your Professors. Your professors are still among your most important resources in law school, and it’s important that you stay engaged with them. Come prepared to online classes, and participate fully in any class discussion. As you review course materials and synthesize what you’ve learned, reach out to your professors with your questions. You can always email any questions, but your professor can also schedule phone calls or Zoom or Skype meetings. If your professor hosts virtual office hours on line, I recommend participating. It’s a good way to stay connected with your professor and your classmates, and you will enhance your understanding of course materials in the process.
Strategy #6: Stay Engaged with Your Classmates. Your classmates can be your greatest resources and support system during law school, and remote learning has the potential to isolate you if you don’t take active steps to stay engaged. In a study group? Brainstorm ways to maintain your meetings remotely. There are all kinds of resources out there, from Zoom or Skype to shared folders in OneDrive or Googledocs. Reach out periodically to check on your law school friends and classmates. Take the time to touch base with people you’d normally sit next to in class. Support each other, encourage each other, and as you find strategies that help you study effectively in the online environment, share those strategies with others.
A move to remote learning may require some adjustment, but taking intentional steps to maintain your studies and stay engaged with your professors and fellow students will ensure your continued success. Stay tuned over the upcoming days and weeks as I write about additional tools and strategies for academic and professional success.
The news media and social media have constant coverage of the spread of the coronavirus right now, and law students may feel stressed as they think about how the virus may affect their law school studies over the next several weeks. A lot of that stress has roots in the question, “What if … ?” Although it isn’t possible to predict the future, you can often reduce some of the worry you feel about a possible “worst case scenario” if you sit down and create a plan for what you would do if the thing you are worrying about actually occurred. Hopefully, you won’t ultimately need to follow through on the plan, but being prepared reduces stress and sets you up for success in the long term.
What might that plan entail in this circumstance? Here are a few suggestions, but you can brainstorm to identify other things you may want to include.
Are you checking your school email on a regular basis so that you are up-to-date on emails coming from your law school dean or the university? Schools commonly communicate important information through email, and therefore checking it regularly – at least twice a day, morning and late afternoon/evening – is advisable. (This is a good practice even if you weren’t worried about the coronavirus! Important information in law school and legal practice is usually communicated by email, so it is helpful to develop regular email habits.)
Do you have an organized contact list of everyone you would need to notify if you became ill and needed to miss school for several days? That list may include the names, email addresses, and phone numbers for key law school administrators like the Dean of Students and your professors. (Once again, this is a good thing to have organized anyhow – it is so much less stressful to have a plan if you ever get sick or need to miss a significant amount of school for an important reason.)
Do you have books, notes, or other things that you commonly leave in a locker at school, but would likely need if your law school decided to hold classes online for a week or two? Decide what you need to bring home with you on a regular basis so you won’t be caught unprepared if the school building was closed for a time.
Do you have email and phone contact information for members of your study group and people you sit next to in class? Your friends and classmates are a great resource in this type of situation, and study groups can still meet virtually using a variety of apps and online platforms. Plus, you can support each other if someone has to miss class because they are sick.
You’ll notice that these ideas take very little time, but they can help you feel calmer in times of potential turmoil. And it’s important to understand that, if your feelings of anxiety are making it difficult or impossible to focus on your studies or are otherwise affecting your health, you may need to reach out to a mental health professional, therapist, or counselor for more specific help in treating your stress and anxiety.
At this point in the semester, it can feel like everything is piling up and little is being accomplished. I often talk with law students who feel overwhelmed, wondering how they will ever get everything done. The stress of your studies can feel paralyzing. If nothing changes, it’s possible to fall behind to a point where there’s not enough time to catch back up.
In reality, things are not hopeless though – there are strategies that can put you back in control of your academic work. Here are five tips for managing that mid-semester time crunch:
First, evaluate what must be done. It’s hard to come up with a plan unless you know what the plan must include. Pull out some paper and create a list. Be comprehensive and methodical. Go through each class, noting anything that you are behind on, upcoming assignments, and topics that still need to be outlined. Don’t stop with your classes, however. Are you involved in any co-curricular or extracurricular activities? Add those things to the list. Evaluate other obligations you have (outside of law school) before the end of the semester, and jot them down as well. Don’t panic if the list gets really long, as the following tips will help you manage the list.
Second, rank each task on your list in terms of priority. Use these four categories (or something similar): (a) this task must be completed; (b) this task is important, and should be completed; (c) in an ideal world, this item would be completed; and (d) I’d like to complete this item, but it isn’t really a priority. Have a hard time deciding between two categories? Don’t sweat it – assign a combo label to that item (for example, a/b or b/c). What you should start realizing is that not everything on your list fits in the highest category. In fact, there are likely tasks on the list that aren’t important after all!
Third, assign a deadline for each task on your list. When you look at a long list, it can seem overwhelming at first, but as you assign deadlines you will realize that not everything needs to be done at the same time. Notice a cluster of tasks that do have similar due dates? Your awareness of that potential conflict now will help you manage those tasks better.
Fourth, break down large projects into a series of smaller, more manageable tasks. This tip helps in two different ways. First, it is easier to understand what must be done to complete a big project, thus budgeting enough time for its completion, if you have thought about the steps involved in that process. Second, a big project (such as outlining for an entire course) can seem overwhelming, but the smaller tasks feel much more manageable.
Finally, create a task calendar for the rest of the semester. Start by dividing the tasks by month. Then divide the tasks for each month into tasks for each week of that month. At the beginning of each week, allocate the tasks by day. Generally, pull one to three tasks from the list for each day (in addition to regular class prep), depending on how much time you have that day to work on the task list and the size of the tasks involved. Have too many items on the task list to be completed that week? Consider the priority ranking I discussed in Tip #2 – allocate the highest priority items first, then work your way through the rankings. Sometimes you will realize that something on the list really isn’t important after all, and it can be removed.
As you complete the tasks on your list, you will feel a sense of accomplishment. In fact, it can help you build momentum to power through the harder things on the list! Taking this approach can ensure that you complete the things that are most important to your personal life, academic success, and professional goals. And if you develop a good system to manage projects now, you can take that with you into your life as a lawyer after graduation.