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.