Updated: Apr 24, 2020

Wooossh. My computer chimes as I wrap up some emails for the day. I look at the clock on my laptop as it ticks over to half past five on a Wednesday evening. A full day of work, but the day is not over. I head to my car grab a quick bite to eat and then head to my local coffee shop. The barista greets me, “Good evening Talon, having a house coffee today?” “Yup”, I reply. “Homework this evening?” “As always.” This was a pretty standard Wednesday for me prior to COVID-19 completely changing our world. I am, like many, struggling to deal with the change in my lifestyle. So, I thought I would take some time, as many college students are being forced to take online classes, to share my tips on how to be a successful online student. I serve as an Assistant Campus Minister for the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at the University of Arkansas. While on staff I am also pursuing a Master of Divinity online through Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This post is close to my heart because I never thought I would be this successful in my master level classes. I graduated from my undergrad with a sub 3.0 GPA. I missed class a lot, I missed assignments, honestly, I only put effort into the classes that were in my degree’s focus. I knew I wanted to grow my biblical knowledge and understanding, and I felt it was important for my career in college ministry. I have now been taking masters level classes in subjects such as church history, the entire Old and New Testaments, hermeneutics, and so-on for over a year. To my surprise, I have yet to get less than an A- in a course (the plus-minus system is the worst). I currently have about a 3.7 GPA, and I am about a quarter way through my degree. I am not saying I am the world’s greatest student, nor the highest authority on the subject, but there are some things that have set this sub 3.0 undergrad student up to be a successful grad-student. HERE ARE FIVE TIPS THAT HAVE HELPED ME BE A SUCCESSFUL ONLINE STUDENT 1. KNOW THE SYLLABUS During my undergrad, I might have read through the syllabus once or twice and called it good. When you are on campus it is easier to not know your syllabus inside and out. You go to class two-three times a week; you have classmates and even the instructors reminding you weekly of what assignments are due next. When you are in an online class, the syllabus is king. The professor will send emails if they change anything, and if they do not communicate anything to you the syllabus wins. What has helped me is reading the syllabus multiple times, asking the professor, or online teaching assistant (OTA), any questions I have via email. And, I always make sure to print it off and have it with my class notes and books.

2. HAVE A CLASSROOM This is the most important tip for me. I laid out what my routine and classroom are like. My local coffee shop was my classroom. I watch all my lectures, write most of my papers, and do most of my reading there. I even try to take my mid-terms and finals in the coffee if I can. Students that go to church with me or are part of our ministry know they will often find me there. It was important for me to have somewhere that was not my work or my home. But, with the current state we are in my spot is gone. So what now? I must create a consistent classroom space in my room. I have my desk set up and my computer. This is where I do my classwork. My tip to you is to have a consistent place or two that is where you always do your classwork and homework. Whether that is your desk, kitchen table, recliner, bed, as long as you are productive.

3. SCHEDULE CONSISTENT CLASS AND STUDY TIME Ok. So, this is technically two tips in one, but they are very similar. Scheduling a consistent class time has been crucial to my success. When you are on campus and in the classroom, you usually have class two or three days a week for an hour or two each day. This should be no different online, especially if you have online lectures to watch. What I do is block off a couple of hours on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to watch lectures and do some of the classwork. But that time may look different for example on Mondays I have from 6-8:30 pm free and Wednesday I have from 6-10 pm, and on Friday I will often do 3-5 pm. The key is to create a schedule like one you would have on campus. In addition to that, I schedule my study and homework time as well. I am more fluid with schedule and move it around according to events birthday parties and other things. But, my class time is blocked of no matter what. 4. MAKE FRIENDS Yes, make friends. This is one that many online students do not think about. Most online classes I know have some sort of discussion assignments. I usually just contact someone in my discussion group and get to know them. I recently visited my campus for a modular course, which is two full days of lectures on campus. When I was there I had coffee with a guy I had met in one of the online classes we had taken in the summer. When I told other people who I was meeting, I realized this was not the norm. Regardless, I highly suggest you do this. Having someone to text about upcoming assignments and discuss what you are learning will make your online experience better and help you to be a more successful student. Also, you can try and take future classes together and have someone going through it with you.

5. GET DRESSED This is a tip I have learned over the past two weeks. I have never worked from home and as mentioned above I did all my classwork in a coffee shop. But wow what a struggle it was for me to not just binge watch tv shows or sleep in and push classwork aside when I was wearing sweatpants (and yes, I am writing this in my sweatpants; we can’t win them all). In all seriousness, having a morning routine, a schedule, and a place to study are highly important to being productive. I try to make my bed in the morning. Since my desk is in my room, if my bed is unmade I feel can just crawl back in. I prefer to shower in the morning, drink some coffee, and get started on classwork or my work-work. But, if I do everything except get dressed as if I am leaving the house, I am unproductive. Thump, thump, thump, thump, my heart races as I click the upload paper button. The nerves are high and intense, I hope that was the correct version, I hope I named the file correctly, what if it is the wrong file type? One year later the thump-thump has lessened. Confidence in myself and my ability to pay attention to details has grown. I leave you with this as an encouragement: online classes might be new to you, and you might be as nervous as I was in the first few classes. But, with time confidence grows, and before you know it you are writing a blog with your own tips that have helped make you successful. I only hope these tips can help you become a better online student and aid you in discovering your own tips.