Support from FASE's Education Technology Office

Tips to students for online learning

Updated on

We care about your transition to the University of Toronto online environment and want to assist you in your learning during these challenging times. We hope that you will find this guide to online learning useful.

Feeling distressed? Life is complicated and doesn't always go as planned. If you are in distress, you can connect with the help you need.

  • Good2Talk Student Helpline | 1-866-925-5454 (Professional counseling, information and referrals helpline for mental health, addictions and students well-being.)
  • My Student Support Program (My SSP) | 1-844-451-9700. Outside of North America, call 001-416-380-6578. (Culturally-competent mental health and counselling services in 146 languages for all U of T students.)

1. How should I set up my study space?

This should have a strong internet connection and be relatively distraction-free. You may want to personalize it, if possible, because you will be spending a lot of time there. Turn off your phone and close other browsers when you are using this space.

How else might you optimize it? Visit this Studying, Concentration & Memory resource.

2. How can I stay organized?

What changes has your course instructor made in transitioning to online? Check in often with your course website, discussion boards, and announcements. Consider turning on your Quercus notifications.

Here are some things you may want to keep track of for each course:

  1. Changes to in-person parts of the class: 
    • Are instructors using live-streaming, lecture capture, or both?
    • Are lectures at a specific time or can you watch them anytime?
  2. Changes to assignments or assessments:  
    • Are there new deadlines?
    • Are assignments, quizzes, and exams being offered virtually?
    • How are you being asked to submit assignments, quizzes, and exams?

3. How can I make the most out of online classes?

  • Explore and become comfortable with the different technologies being used in your courses (e.g. Quercus, Zoom etc.). If you can, try out connections in advance of lectures and meetings. If you are having difficulty with these interfaces, notify your instructor.
  • Find out how to ask questions (e.g. raise your hand virtually, use the chat function, etc.).
  • Close distracting tabs (you may think you can multitask but studies show that it's ineffective).
  • Continue to take notes as you would if you were there in person.
  • Watch recordings at normal speed.

4. What should I do during an online class session?

  1. Reduce Distractions by closing all other browsers and turn off your phone.
  2. Engage the material with the mindset that you are going to have to explain it to someone immediately after the session. Suggestions on how to do this: make written notes (incl. your questions), try to anticipate what the instructor will talk about next, set a goal of asking one question each lecture.
  3. Participate during synchronous classes. Be ready for the instructor to ask for you to turn on your video and respond. Be ready for the instructor to put you into breakout rooms where you will be discussing with other online colleagues.
  4. Ask questions and seek help. It is much harder for instructors to gauge online how well a class is learning. Asking questions will be appreciated by both the instructor and your classmates. Using the microphone will help reduce the sense of separation for both you and your instructor.

5. How can I set up a schedule?

Your learning will be more independent, so you need to create your regular schedule.  

  • Setting up a calendar is a good start.
  • Use this as an opportunity to strengthen your self-motivation skills.  For example, build in some sort of accountable metric: e.g. create a plan with a friend and text them when you are getting started each morning. (i.e., what people often do with physical training)

6. How should I manage my time effectively?

Use this as an opportunity to develop and strengthen your time-management skills:

  • Try out a new time management technique. For example, the Pomodoro Technique where you break your work time into ~25 min. intervals, interspaced with 3-5 minute (physical) breaks.
  • Set mini deadlines throughout the week to complete coursework (and add these to your calendar!)

7. How can I connect with my peers?

Reach out to classmates: You will no longer be seeing classmates regularly in shared lectures, labs, and tutorials. You will need to be proactive and make extra efforts to create ways and opportunities to interact.  

  • Reach out between your classes and when you are studying alone. Learning together and exchanging ideas is much more effective than trying to learn on your own.
  • Ask your instructors to create digital spaces within your course to allow you to collaborate with your peers (like open discussion boards).

8. How can I collaborate with my group?

Remote collaborations for group assignments has its challenges but it’s definitely possible.

  • Schedule regular meetings: This could be a quick text or using virtual chat groups (e.g., Microsoft Teams). If you do not have access to this technology reach out to your course instructors and see if they can set-up virtual chat rooms.
  • Set a purpose for meetings. This will help keep your group on task.
  • Record meetings: Meetings can be recorded using audio, video or even through note taking. If a teammate is unable to make the meetings (e.g., prior commitments, poor connection) you can more easily bring them up to speed if the session is recorded.  
  • Check in on each other and hold each other accountable: If someone has been absent from your group meetings or chat, check-in with them. If you aren’t getting responses within a day or two, let your instructor know.

9. How can I take care of myself?

Take breaks, go for a walk, stay connected, and take a moment to celebrate all that has worked OK during this transition even though it wasn’t perfect.

Whatever you do, JUST GET STARTED. It will feel awkward and different and weird. But once you find a routine, it will make you feel much better!

What are my other options for resources? There many different varieties of resources available to you. Some support you technically and some are geared towards your mental health and well-being. It is recommended that you review these resources early so that you are aware of them before you need them.

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