online classes tips and tricks

Online Classes: Tips and Tricks


Now that your coursework and group work are moving online and remote, here are some strategies to keep in mind prior to beginning your online classes:

1. Stay organized

With so many things changing in your courses, you might be reliving that first-week-of-class confusion at a finals-week pace.

Here are some things you might want to keep track of for each class:

Are in-person parts of the class changing?

  • What are the in-person parts of this course? (lecture, lab, etc)
  • Where can you find it or how do you access it? (live-stream, lecture capture, etc)
  • Is it at a specific time or can you watch it anytime? Are assignments changing?

Are there new due dates?

  • Is how you’re submitting your assignments changing?
  • Are any quizzes or exams being offered virtually?

What should you do if you need help?

  • Is your course offering virtual office hours? When and on what platform?
  • Is there an online forum for asking questions?

One example of a way you could keep track:


Class 1

Class 2

Class 3

Important Dates



 Paper due Friday 

Big Changes 

No lab
Live lecture

Discussion optional
Recorded lecture 

May do paper instead
of a group project 

Important Links

Lecture link
Office hours link 

Discussion link
Lecture link

 Group paper folder 

2. Avoid multitasking

If you’re doing more work on your own and your time is less structured, you might be more tempted to multitask. Many people think they can do multiple things at once. But research shows us that only about 2% of the population can multitask. Even if you feel like you’re multitasking, you’re probably not… really, you’re switching between tasks very quickly (some call this “micro-tasking”).

The downsides of multitasking and microtasking

  • Assignments take longer. Each time you come back to an assignment (from Instagram for example), you have to get familiar with it, find your spot, remember what you were going to do next, etc.
  • You’re more likely to make mistakes. Distractions and switching between tasks tires out the brain.
  • You’ll remember less. When your brain is divided, you’re less able to commit what you’re learning to long-term memory (because it doesn’t get encoded properly into your brain).

What to do instead

When you need to study something important, consider The Magic of Monotasking.

  • Focus on one thing at a time.
  • Take breaks between tasks.
  • Consider the “pomodoro method" to help you focus for 25- or 50-minute periods and then reward yourself with 5- or 10-minute breaks.

3. Making the most of video lectures

  • Stick to your instructor’s schedule as much as you can. Staying on a schedule will help you have a feeling of normalcy and prevent you from falling way behind.
  • Find out how to ask questions. Is there a chat feature? Is there a discussion forum?
  • Close distracting tabs and apps. Humans are not as good at multitasking as they think! (See #2 above.)
  • Continue to take notes as you would if you were there in person.
  • Watch recordings at normal speed. Research shows that playback speed of 1.5x can lower your retention and can result in lower scores on assessments. Faster playback speeds are worse for complex, multi-step material (which most of your lectures probably are). Remember: this is all about 1.5x. There hasn’t even been research on 2x playback speed, which is probably even worse.

4. Set a schedule

Setting a schedule for yourself can help provide structure and keep you motivated. If you don’t already keep a weekly or daily calendar, try something like the example below to organize your time. Include time for exercise and self-care.

Schedule Template


Scheduled Activity

Course Tasks

Personal Care

8 a.m.




9 a.m. 


Call in for remote lecture 


10 a.m.


Read Chapter 3


11 a.m.

Break – video call with friend



12 p.m.




1 p.m.


Read Chapter 4


2 p.m.

Recap lecture with classmate



5. Trade your old strategies for new ones

Your routines may have to adjust during this time. Look for ways to adapt your usual habits or form new ones.

For example:

  • If you usually study in a coffee shop or library, ask yourself what kind of environment helps you study. See if you can recreate that at home. Maybe it’s studying in a chair, rather than on your bed or couch, or moving to a new spot when you change tasks. If you feel you need background noise, consider a white noise app.
  • If you always study in groups, try a virtual or even phone-based study session with your group.
  • If you thrive on tight timelines, but now have a more open schedule, think about how working with others or setting up a schedule can recreate that for you. When that gets hard, see if you can even do 15 minutes at a time.

6. When working with a group or team

Remote collaboration will look a little different, but it is definitely possible.

  • Try not to procrastinate. That group project may be out-of-sight, out-of-mind if you aren’t seeing each other regularly. Resist the urge to put it off. Make small progress and stay in touch.
  • Meet regularly, especially if you usually touch base during class or lab. Consider a quick text on your group chat about progress every couple of days. Ideally, have real conversations over video any week you’re working together. Check out tools you have access to as EMCC students.
  • Set a purpose for meetings and use a shared notes doc. Meetings might feel different when using video, even if your team was really good at working informally in the past. Try to set the purpose of your meeting in advance. Take notes in a shared doc so you can all contribute and follow along.
  • Keep videos open when you can. As long as you can see whatever you need to collaborate, aim to keep the video visible on your computer screen. It’ll help you see the expressions of your teammates and stay connected to each other.
  • Check on each other and ask for backup. If someone has been absent from your group meetings or chat, ask them directly if they’re still able to participate in the project. If you aren’t getting responses within a day or two, let your instructor know. Know it isn’t being petty, it’s your team’s responsibility.

7. Stay connected to other people

Even if we limit how much face-to-face time we spend with others on campus, connecting with family and friends might be more important than ever. Staying in touch with instructors, classmates, and group mates is still important for continued classwork.

So, schedule video calls with friends and family. Talking with loved ones is often really helpful when you’re stressed or nervous about something. Taking a break to have a laugh is also important.

Use Hangouts, FaceTime, Skype, Webex, or other video conference to connect with classmates and talk through a tough problem. And attend virtual office hours or study groups so you can stay up on your coursework.

8. Reach out to your EMCC instructor(s) and advisor

If you are experiencing any challenges with your academics, the first person you should connect with is your instructor. They are best prepared to respond to the curriculum, class assignments, and learning expectations – and it’s very likely they have just helped one of your fellow students with the same question. Your academic advisor is also an excellent resource for you.

9. Take advantage of free support services

Estrella Mountain Community College provides many valuable support services for students – and virtually everything is available to students at no additional cost. All students are encouraged to take advantage of these resources.

Visit the EMCC Department Hours and Contact Information page for a complete listing of all student services, or complete the Student Services Request Form and our staff will get back to you as quickly as possible.

Please remember, this will pass

If COVID-19 feels like it has happened at the worst possible time, remember this is temporary. Everything will get back on track when things calm down.

Until then, take a deep breath, do your best, get some rest, and wash your hands.

This document is subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. ©2020, Regents of the University of Michigan.