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During the COVID-19 pandemic, many high school students attended school virtually.

And for many, it was a win, opening up remote class opportunities even as schools returned to in-person learning. If you’ve gone through remote learning in high school already, you may think you’re a pro. But there’s a difference between remote learning during the depths of the COVID-19 crisis versus remote learning when in-person opportunities are available.

Now, even as in-person classes have resumed, remote and digital classroom opportunities allow for high school students to attend virtual classes to boost grades, beef up a college application, or get a head start on earning college credits.

But attending school remotely can be very different than being in the classroom—especially if you’ve never met your teacher in real life. As you may have discovered, the “old rules” of classroom success do not necessarily apply, and you may need to adopt additional strategies to succeed and get the most out of your courses. Chances are, you’ll likely encounter virtual options in your college career, even if you aren’t currently having any virtual experiences in high school. Learning how to succeed in the virtual classroom before you get to college can put you ahead. Read on for more tips about how to hone your virtual learning skills—even if the majority of your academic career is IRL.

1. Understand the Set Up

What do you need for class? How will the teacher or professor grade you? Will attendance be taken, or can you watch a class recording? What about study groups? Before you start an online class, a smart remote learning technique is to understand exactly what’s expected of you. That way, you can clear your schedule to prioritize essential meetings and can develop a plan to succeed. Remote learning may require you to be more independent about your learning—teachers may not remind you what is due and when, and they might not call on you unless your hand is (virtually) raised.

“If you’re struggling with one assignment, ask your teacher if you can try another…We might say no, but nothing is lost by asking.

Debby Schauffler

2. Be Open and Give Feedback

Bear in mind that the structure may change throughout the year, and that you can be a force behind those changes. Debby Schauffler, a 30-year teaching veteran who successfully transitioned her high school classroom to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and has since taken professional development courses in online instruction, says students should speak up if they spot ways to improve the experience. This could be asking your instructor for additional office hour support or inquiring about breakout rooms for small group discussion during a lecture. “The more students can develop their own strategies and communicate their needs clearly, the better. We appreciate suggestions.” She also says to get specific about your needs on a task-by-task basis. “If you’re struggling with one assignment, ask your teacher if you can try another—maybe making a video instead of writing. We might say no, but nothing is lost by asking.”

Also, be forthcoming with your teachers, even if it’s something you think they don’t want to hear. Schauffler suspects that some students aren’t always entirely honest about why they’re missing online class and wishes that they felt comfortable telling her the real reasons they aren’t attending. If you’re sick,  dealing with a conflict with another class, or otherwise unable to attend a virtual class, let your teacher know as soon as possible. Your teacher may be able to offer different assignments that are more motivating or can be done independently at times when you’re more able to focus.

3. Connect with Other Students

Bonding with people is an important part of your educational experience, so prioritize it as you would schoolwork. But don’t wait for your teacher to invite you to reach out to other students. Schauffler suggests pairing up with a fellow student and texting, calling, or video-chatting regularly for casual conversations about schoolwork. Even better, find things you connect on outside of academics, and check in with friends to compare notes on what’s keeping you motivated.

Taking a class with all new people? One key remote-learning tip for high school students is to keep your camera on and make it a priority to participate. Take advantage of time outside of class to connect with study groups on Slack, through WhatsApp chats, or email threads. There also may be specific virtual classrooms your instructor has set up—take advantage of the resources and download the app, if applicable. Sometimes, instructors may post additional materials within the virtual classroom. The same goes with communicating with your professor. You may have to take extra initiative, such as dropping in on virtual office hours or emailing them after class if you had a question or point that you weren’t able to cover.

4. Define Your “Class” Space and Time

When it comes time to buckle down, it’s all about setting yourself up for success. “Pick a distraction-free place and turn off and hide your phone before getting to work,” Schauffler recommends. She also suggests trying a few different locations before settling on one—a strategy she’s building into her classwork. “I’m planning an early exercise where I ask students to try reading or writing in three different places and have them report back.” Give yourself that assignment to see where you work best.

When you’ve figured that out, do the same exercise to determine your preferred time to tackle classwork, and then stick to it. Consistency is key to time management. For personal accountability, make others aware of your schedule. Publicizing your schoolwork schedule or creating an online calendar can provide the motivation to stick to it. Schauffler asks students to send her a quick email when they’re getting started on their work so they feel accountable. If your teacher isn’t offering that option and you don’t feel comfortable sharing your schedule with others, try setting a timer and working straight through until it goes off, then rewarding yourself with a break before jumping back in

5. Coordinate with Family Members

For those sharing WiFi or other technologies with members of your household, communication is key. “Make sure parents and kids are working together to look at schedules and figure out a plan,” Schauffler advises. Inform your school or teacher about your specific situation, and see if there’s a way to minimize overlap between worktimes. Ask for classes to be recorded and emailed out, or see if you can get some deadline flexibility. Schauffler says that teachers may surprise you by how flexible they’ll be about working outside of regular school hours. Remember that virtual learning doesn’t need to be confined to your home. Try using a private room in a library, listening to a class using headphones at a coffee shop, or attending with the camera off in your car. It’s also helpful to coordinate with your classmates and “go to class” together in someone’s home, followed by a study session. Thinking ahead about your schedule and troubleshooting potential issues in advance is always helpful.

6. Check In on Yourself

“I’d recommend that students try to look at one or two weeks at a time, and then do a brief self-assessment at the end of that period,” Schauffler says. Ask yourself how you did, what you’re feeling, and what progress you’ve made in the past one to two weeks. Also, think about what’s working and what isn’t in terms of learning. “Remember that everything won’t fall on one end or the other of an imaginary continuum,” she says. “It’s OK if things feel just OK.”

Applying these tips can help you succeed in online classes. Remote learning can feel uncomfortable or awkward, especially at first, so try to be patient with yourself and others, and remember that not every class will be this way.

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