Your 2020 toolkit to online learning success

Your 2020 toolkit to online learning success

Once upon a time (last year), in a land far, far away (anywhere other than your house), students of all ages would gleefully go school shopping when fall rolled around, gathering notebooks, pens, backpacks and color-themed academic gear. Now, as the next school semester inches closer, students are facing an entirely different world—one filled with a mixture of in-person and online learning. Thanks to COVID-19, out are the fancy folders and trendy book bags, and in are the comfy pajama bottoms, noise-cancelling headphones and extra-long charging cables.

For MTSU students, the world of online learning is an ever-increasing option for safer, more socially-distant learning. Of the 5,000-plus courses offered by MTSU next fall, 40 percent will be meeting on campus, while 44 percent have been designated as online or remote—the difference being that online courses are held asynchronously, while remote classes are held synchronously. The remaining 16 percent, marked as “other,” include things such as internships, dissertations, study abroad and more.

“…Before we started changing everything, just shy of 900 courses were online,” said Tyler Henson, director of MT One Stop. “So we increased the number of online courses—by changing things to remote—by almost 1,500 courses.”

Once students get to Thanksgiving break, classes will revert to being exclusively online for study days and finals. But never fear, online pioneers: we at MTSU have prepared the ultimate student toolkit for your online learning.

Your school semester has never been comfier (or more convenient).

The Essentials

A computer and various desk accessories sit against a white background.

To start off your fancy toolkit, you’ll need the most basic item required of online learning: a computer. Numerous computer companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Dell and Lenovo offer steep discounts on laptops, tablets, etc. for students. Additionally, MTSU will be providing a number of Chromebooks and hotspots to students at no charge during the upcoming semester. More information on this to come!

(Pro tip: If you purchase an inexpensive laptop that has a less-than-impressive webcam, you can purchase a separate webcam, or simply snag a cheap phone stand and download your preferred video conferencing platform onto your smartphone. Goodbye fuzzy feed, hello clarity!)

Now, to properly set up your computer, it’s always good to purchase a separate USB flash drive or, if you’re in a computer-heavy major, a terabyte hard drive to give your computer optimum storage for all of those endless papers that clutter your desktop.

A woman sits on the floor in front of her couch, holding a laptop in her lap.

Speaking of desktop, your next basic item is, well, a desk! If you plan on having a productive virtual class schedule, you’re going to need a space to call your own. Whether that be an actual desk, a corner of your couch, or even your dining room table, find an area with adequate lighting, minimal distractions and enough elbow room to let you focus. Bonus points if you can arrange a nondescript background so you’re not giving your entire class a virtual tour of your house.

If curling up on the couch is your thing, you might want to invest in a nifty lap desk. This will allow you to be more organized and efficient, with the added benefit of feeling like you’re being served breakfast in bed. It’s really the best of both worlds.

Once you’ve gathered your technology and claimed a space as your work zone, it’s time to clear any distractions. For virtual classes, you will want to invest in some comfortable headphones or earbuds. Since the price of good quality headphones or earbuds can range anywhere from $10 to $100, don’t be  afraid to be picky. You’re going to need all the help you can get to tune out annoying neighbors, loud siblings or simply your cat who is jealous of your homework.

While sitting at your newly-set up desk with your fancy headphones and well maintained computer, you’re bound to forget the one random thing that all students forget: hydration. This may seem like an out-of-the-blue thing to mention, but seriously: studies have shown that a hydrated brain is a smart brain. And in the craziness of a pandemic-world, we need all the help we can get.

To set yourself up for success, get a nice reusable water bottle. Any style will do. From sleek glass to chunky gallons and everything in between, your options are practically endless. The goal is to keep water within arms-reach at all times, which makes it easy for you to stay on the track to hydration. Fuel that hardworking brain with the water it deserves.

Lastly, make sure you’re up-to-date with all of the programs offered to you through MTSU. Thanks to your student fees, students have access to the entire Microsoft Office Suite without cost.  Additionally, MTSU has launched Zoom as its primary video conferencing program, and has laid out numerous tutorials to help students get the hang of the program. Finally, the MTSU James E. Walker Library has compiled a gigantic list of free resources available to students to help you make the most of this new academic world we’re in.

This may be uncharted territory, but with the proper set up and a little bit of optimism, you’ll be able to tackle any challenge-virtual or otherwise—that this upcoming semester throws your way.

Author Angele Latham is a senior at MTSU, majoring in Journalism with a focus in Visual Communications and minoring in Criminal Justice. The views and opinions expressed above are her own.