Online Classes: A Slippery Slope

For the UAS Whalesong
Despite the fact that I don’t enjoy being cold, wet, or outside, this semester I opted to take classes that almost all take place on campus. Last semester, I enjoyed the dubious privilege of being to take all of my classes online. I remember thinking that it was going to be great! I’d practically never have to set foot outside, except for the occasional pre-arranged meeting time I would set my own schedule, I could stay up late and sleep in every morning, and I could generally be the Master of My Own Destiny.
This was all true – unfortunately. While there are many people who enjoy having all-online classes and are capable of balancing their own schedule easily, I learned the important lesson that I am not necessarily one of those people. I also learned that there are many hazards associated with all-online classes that people don’t necessarily warn you about. That being said, since we’re fairly close to the beginning of the semester, I am here to do the warning for you. So sit down, buckle up, and pay attention. This could save your life (well, not your life. But maybe some of your mental well-being, later on).
One of the most important steps is to clock out study time. Some online classes work on extremely strict schedules of due-or-die, and others offer you an alarming amount of leniency in the vein of “if it’s done and done well by the last day of the semester, you get an A.” Obviously you need to keep a Very Close Eye on when your various assignments are due, but it’s even more urgent that you make yourself sit down and work on these assignments well before their deadlines. I promise you, it is frighteningly easy to underestimate the amount of work an assignment will require, or to forget that you have more than one assignment. While I got everything turned in, I more than once experienced the truth of Newton’s little-known fourth law of motion: “A student in bed will remain in bed unless acted upon by a great enough panic.” Due to bad time management and not paying close enough attention to due dates, I spent a great deal of last semester in a constant state of panic, and that’s something I would not wish upon you. So please, love yourself and dedicate some time every day to working on those class assignments. (This advice is, of course, also applicable to on-campus classes; however, in those you have direct contact with the professor and constant reminders of impending assignments. Online class work is much easier to forget.)
Paying attention in class is also important. If you have an online lecture-style class, you are going to struggle with paying attention because you are present but essentially invisible. Without the direct lecture-hall line of sight, it’s easy to make yourself think that you can still pay attention to the lectures while playing video games, listening to music, alphabetizing your DVD collection, or anything else along those lines – and you are wrong. Lots of on-campus students – myself included – take online classes with the expectation that they won’t have to leave their dorm or apartment, but I would argue and almost insist that you not allow yourself to board this ominous train of thought. If you have online classes with assigned meeting times, please do yourself a favor and go down to campus or a café or somewhere public where you’ll be held accountable for paying attention – or at least where you won’t fall asleep. DO NOT fool yourself into thinking that you can listen to the lecture on your bed, and in some cases, at your desk. Even if you don’t go to campus, at least go into a common room or your apartment living room, where your roommates and peers will be able to judge you if they come in and find you sleeping during class. Trust me, the  professor does not spend an hour and a half talking for no good reason. He or she will say at least one thing that you will need to know for some assignment in the future. Plus, these classes are expensive, so you need to try and glean your money’s worth from them!
Finally, leave your domicile. No matter how much of an introvert you are, human contact is important and necessary to your health. During my all-online semester, I thought that I could happily survive with only going down to campus for meetings. When I interacted with my friends, I usually had them over to my place instead of going to see them. I imagined that I thrived on minimal human contact and a steady diet of coffee and whatever I was pretending passed as food. (No, I wasn’t eating like, literal trash or anything, but I did consume pizza Lunchables with alarming frequency.) Look, what I’m saying is, go get food at the cafeteria – and then stay at the cafeteria and eat it. No matter how cold or wet it is outside, tromp the 30 seconds to the lodge on Sundays and sit by the fire for a while. Go study at the library, even if you don’t have a pressing assignment coming up. Commit to at least one club meeting or event a week. Even if you’re fine with limited human contact, I think that holing up in your apartment or dorm really takes away from your college experience, and I regret not being more interactive last semester. And hey, if you have Really Good Friends, they’ll guilt trip you until you do start coming to their place to hang out.
I survived my online semester and came out with all As in the end, but that doesn’t mean I came out particularly happy or healthy. If you’re taking online classes, I want to keep you from digging yourself the same hole of constant stress and low-key panic that I dug. Love yourself! Get up early instead of staying up late (I’m not a morning person and I know that sounds awful, but I think it’s healthier for you and also if you have nowhere to go you have all the time in the world to shower and drink coffee and slog sleepily around). Take up yoga. Definitely eat breakfast – morning technically lasts from midnight until noon, you have hours and hours to eat breakfast. And gosh, call your mother – or have her call you and ask, “how’s that paper coming along?” Wow. Even just writing those words fills me with subtle, creeping guilt. Excuse me. I have to go check on some due dates.

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