Online Learning Tips

Mon-Fri | 9:00-5:00 — Chapman Learning Commons Online Assistants are trained peers ready to help answer your questions about academic support and UBC learning technologies (such as Canvas, Collaborate Ultra, Zoom, and more).

Online learning has been around for decades. These tried and tested tips can help you navigate your online course experience successfully. But don’t feel you need to read all these tips at once! Explore what makes sense at different parts of the term.

Plan Your Time | Attend Lectures | Communicate | Work In Groups | Complete Assignments | Take Quizzes & Exams


Plan Your Time

Working well in online courses is all about keeping yourself accountable. You may find you have more or less time being at home now, depending on how circumstances have impacted your commuting, childcare, or other commitments. Whether time feels abundant or restricted, the same approaches apply.

Create a course plan of smaller steps

  • Break down each online course workload into short-term goals you can achieve on a daily and/or weekly basis. This takes time but will be worth it.
  • Set short-term goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. Be honest about what is realistic for you given the present situation.
  • Schedule working on goals during times you know your energy level is higher, if you can. Two hours in the morning compared to the afternoon will result in different productivity for different people.
  • Track your progress as you go, including noting when you’ve not met a goal so you can plan adjustments. Celebrate big and small achievements with concrete rewards!

Tip #1:
When using technologies that are new to you, keep in mind everything may take a little longer than you expect, especially in the beginning.

Tip #2:
UBC Library’s Assignment Calculators » can divide writing projects into manageable steps for you.

This section was adapted from the Chapman Learning Commons Managing Your Time toolkit »

Use a time-based approach to your plan

Divide your work and breaks into regular, short increments using the time-management approach called the Pomodoro Technique. This structure will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed or burned out.

  1. Pick a short-term goal to focus on. Settle into your study space, set a timer for 25 minutes, and start working.
  2. If a distraction pops into your head, write it down and return to your task.
  3. When the timer goes off, you’ve completed one increment, also known as a pomodoro. Mark where you’re at and step away from your study space.
  4. Take a 5-minute break! You can check the distractions that popped in your head, stretch, grab a cup of coffee/tea, or do whatever else feels relaxing.
  5. After four pomodoros (2 hours of working), take a nice 30-minute break.
  6. Repeat until you’ve completed your task or worked for the period of time you set aside.

For other helpful approaches to looking at your time, check out the UBC Life blog post on ways of reframing time management »

This section was adapted from the Chapman Learning Commons post on the Pomodoro Technique »

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Attend Lectures

Lectures in online courses may happen in real time with web-conferencing and collaboration tools or be recorded and uploaded to where you access course content. The main challenge for you will be making the time and space to focus as you would in a physical classroom.

Attend real-time lectures online

For the best experience:

  • Know that fees may apply when calling in on your phone, depending on where you are and the country code used for dialling in. Check your phone plan first to avoid incurring long-distance or international charges, or use other ways of joining sessions.
  • Understand your options for giving feedback during a session, such as how to “raise your hand” or respond to questions. Ask if these are unclear.
  • Find as quiet and distraction-free a place as you can with a strong Internet connection to attend the lecture (ideally your study space). Consider using headphones, ideally ones with a built-in microphone.
  • Close down all background programs​ you don’t need on the computer or device where you’ll be streaming the lecture. Try taking pen and paper notes to minimize having to switch between windows on your screen.
  • Join the session a few minutes early, if you can, to test your connection, microphone, and camera before the lecture begins.
  • Keep your microphone muted during the session, unless you’re talking, to reduce echoes and background noise from interfering with the class.
  • If you share your video during the session, make sure there is nothing behind you that will be distracting or revealing for others to see. If you experience lag time when sharing your video, you may need to turn it off.

Tip:
If your Internet connectivity, time zone, or other remote issues make it hard to attend at the scheduled time, talk to your instructor ahead of time. You can figure out together how to best address these issues.

The main web-conferencing and collaboration tools for real-time lectures at UBC are Collaborate Ultra » and Zoom »

Watch recorded lectures

  • Schedule a regular time to watch lectures and put it in your calendar. Treat this time like a live lecture and try not to miss it. Your lectures can quickly build up and you may become overwhelmed about catching up.
  • Find as quiet and distraction-free a place as you can with a strong Internet connection to attend the lecture (ideally your study space). Consider using headphones, ideally ones with a built-in microphone.
  • Don’t feel like you have to watch the whole lecture at once, especially if it’s long. Depending on the topic, you might learn better with smaller chunks and regular breaks (e.g., try the Pomodoro Technique ).
  • Take advantage of being able to pause and rewind what your instructor says. Sometimes hearing something a second or third time is all it takes to understand it.
  • Ask your instructor if there is a transcript available. You may find it helpful to review this, especially if the video’s audio is poor. (If a transcript is not available and you require one due to a disability, ask for accommodations.)
  • Take notes to summarize and absorb the material, even though you can re-watch the video. When it comes time to study, you may find it more efficient to review your notes.

Tip:
You can propose a time to watch lectures together with classmates to help you all stay accountable and ask questions of each other, if content is unclear.

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Communicate

The solitary nature of online courses can leave you feeling isolated, especially in times like these. Take advantage of opportunities to connect with your instructor and fellow students in a positive manner throughout the term. Let’s all show we’re here to support each other!

Be a respectful online presence

Communicating in online courses comes with a code of conduct sometimes known as “netiquette”. The rules may vary depending on context, but these top ten apply universally:

  1. Instructors will usually set the tone and provide guidance and guidelines for behaviour. Follow these for each course.
  2. Introduce yourself in any new setting. You can ask your instructor to set up a discussion board where everyone can do this, if no other space is provided.
  3. Respond to other people using their preferred names, when you can, and make sure you are spelling and pronouncing names right. It personalizes the exchange.
  4. Avoid assuming people’s gender or pronouns based on their name or appearance. Instead, refer to people using names or non-gendered language (e.g., “I agree with what the student before me said”).
  5. Check your tone and phrasing before you share, particularly when responding directly to someone. What you say online is difficult to take back, especially in writing.
  6. Be careful with jokes and sarcasm. They don’t always translate well to the online environment and may be misinterpreted by people unfamiliar with you or from backgrounds different than yours.
  7. Know that people participate differently when communicating, some by reflecting rather than jumping in right away. But reach out if you notice someone has been absent for awhile, particularly in group work.
  8. Quote or otherwise give credit if you are responding to a specific point made by someone else or including something from another text.
  9. Accept and forgive mistakes. We all make them sometimes, despite our best intentions.
  10. Always remember there is a person behind the words and that culture and personality influence communication style and practices. Stay open and ask questions if something seems unclear or unfriendly—avoid negative assumptions and try to assume the best about others!

Tip:
In rare instances, online behavior can appear so blatantly disrespectful and even hostile that it requires attention. If this is the case, let your instructor know right away.

How you communicate online is one part of your digital identity. The UBC Digital Tattoo site » can help you think about your overall online presence and learn about your rights and responsibilities as a digital citizen.

This section was adapted from the UBC Distance Learning communicating online page »

Reach out to your instructors

  • Communicating one-on-one with instructors is something you may feel uncomfortable about, and this feeling may be heightened when you don’t have any opportunities to meet face-to-face.
  • Please know you can and should reach out for help, now more than ever. Instructors are your guides through online courses and want you to succeed. If you are struggling with the material or concerned about keeping up, let them know—the earlier, the better!

Tip:
Attending virtual office hours is a great, informal way to connect with instructors. Even just five minutes can go a long way toward easing your concerns.

Find more motivation for reaching out in the Chapman Learning Commons Interacting with Profs toolkit »

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Work In Groups

Connecting with peers can become trickier without the casual, face-to-face interactions that come with regular in-person class times. But online collaboration tools and a strong team dynamic can help you tackle any group work.

Use online study groups

  • In Canvas courses, groups can be organized by students as well as instructors. Use your Canvas groups to study, collaborate on projects, and discuss course topics.
  • Each group has its own private Canvas group area, which ​contains announcements, pages, discussions, and files that are shared only within your group​.
  • Outside of Canvas, you can support group work with:
    • Microsoft Teams – You can meet, chat, and collaborate on documents in real time in Teams. Instructors may create a space for a course that you can work in, or you can use Teams on your own.
    • UBC Blogs – Create a personal blog to share your own content and invite discussion of ideas or approaches using the blog comments.
    • UBC Wiki – Develop content collaboratively with a group in this public wiki space.
    • Social media platforms – Connect in spaces you know your classmates are also using.

Tip #1:
You can join an Online Writing Community » for support through the UBC Vancouver Centre for Writing and Scholarly Communication. For UBC Okanagan students, try a UBCO Online Writing Community »

Tip #2:
Setting up your own Canvas groups is outlined in UBC’s Canvas student guide » but you may need to ask your instructor to enable this first.

Canvas student groups are covered in the People and Groups section » of the Canvas documentation.

Establish good group dynamics online

  • Agree on ground rules for communication in the beginning, including how quickly people should expect responses from each other. Everyone has different expectations for different mediums as well as varying commitments.
  • Consider exchanging a backup way you can each be contacted. Your main communication channel may go down or its notification messages may end up in a spam folder. A backup contact ensures you can still connect.
  • Be sensitive to time zone differences. Find out where everyone is located, and try to vary when you meet, so no one has to be up early or late every time.
  • Meet with technology that supports video so you can see your teammates. Video makes a big difference in keeping everyone engaged and connected and allows using facial expressions to communicate.
  • Use online collaboration tools everyone is comfortable with and can access. If certain teammates have advantages like bigger screens or faster Internet connections, try to divide the work so they can take tasks better done with these (if it’s a fair division of labour).

Tip:
Keep the tips for being a respectful online presence in mind. It is all the more important to actively work at being respectful when everyone is under added stress.

The Chapman Learning Commons also has tips for getting the most out of group work » and supporting group collaboration »

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Complete Assignments

Two big ways assignments are different in online courses is that you can’t physically hand something in or present to an in-person class. Submitting and presenting can still be done, of course, but you’ll want to think about them a little differently.

Submit your work online

  • Save copies of anything you turn in online, including assignments you write in textboxes. Having a backup will help, if there are any issues with a submission. Organize your files into course folders and name them with meaningful descriptive words.
  • Find out the acceptable file types and maximum file size allowed for any technology you’re using well before your due date. File type and size constraints are common challenges students encounter when submitting assignments online, and it’s stressful to be caught off-guard at the last minute.
  • Keep in mind that learning technologies may not be flexible with late submissions the way instructors can sometimes be. If you miss a deadline and cannot submit, contact your instructor to see if there is another way of turning in a late assignment.

Tip:
Many applications let you save or export what you make in different formats (PDFs are generally a safe bet) as well as minimize file size.

In Canvas, assignment file uploads are limited to 5GB and media uploads to 500MB. If you can submit using the Canvas text editor, the Kaltura (rainbow sun) icon in the editor toolbar will let you embed media up to 2GB.

Give real-time presentations online

When presenting online, you can use many face-to-face presentation skills and apply these strategies in addition:

  • Rehearse your presentation in the tool to practice and to troubleshoot any technical issues with the things you plan to do. Ask your instructor to set up a practice session, if you can’t make one yourself.
  • Prepare for unexpected technical issues. Write down how you will troubleshoot problems like loss of audio or students unable to see a visual you share. Send a back-up of your presentation to your instructor or a classmate.
  • Find a relatively quiet place with good lighting to present from. Use headphones and, ideally, an external microphone (one you plug into your computer) for clear audio.
  • Share an agenda at the start of your presentation. Orient the class by giving them an idea of what to expect and when they should be ready to engage.
  • Check in with the class regularly. When presenting online, you won’t be able to see all students’ reactions and non-verbal cues. Ask if people are hearing and following you by having them give a thumbs-up or other type of feedback.
  • Keep it simple. This is important for any presentation and even more when your classmates are potentially dealing with at-home distractions.

Tip:
Watch the UBC Studios quick tips for optimizing how your video looks » on the Keep Teaching site, which are just as relevant for presenting as for giving lectures.

The main web-conferencing and collaboration tools for presentations at UBC are Collaborate Ultra » and Zoom »

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Take Quizzes/Exams

Taking quizzes and exams in online courses adds new stressors but also flexibility. You can choose your space and often use your keyboard for responding, which is easier than writing by hand for long exams. Without physical paper to manage, ​grading turnaround​ may also be faster.

Complete Canvas assessments

Canvas will always call your assessment a “quiz”, whether instructors assign a quiz or exam in courses. These are things to be aware of in taking Canvas quizzes.

  • Download LockDown Browser, if required: If you see “Requires Respondus LockDown browser” next to a quiz name, you will need to install LockDown Browser. This browser restricts printing, copying, and accessing other websites or applications during quizzes.
  • Stick to full-screen devices: Take Canvas quizzes on a desktop or laptop computer with a strong Internet connection, rather than on your phone. Viewing the quiz settings and timer on the Canvas Student app is not very intuitive, and you may miss something important.
  • Look for the “Available Until” date: This is the point when you can no be longer be taking a quiz. Some quizzes may not have this date set, but if they do and you’re midway through when it arrives, the quiz will auto-submit.
  • Don’t leave a timed quiz midway: While you can technically exit Canvas quizzes and return later, avoid using this feature on a timed quiz. The timer will continue running while you’re gone, and the quiz will auto-submit when time runs out.
  • Navigate quizzes with the question list: If you get bumped out in the middle of a quiz, you can go back in, but you will be at the beginning. Find your way back to the question you were on using the list in the sidebar.

Tip:
Don’t hesitate to contact your instructor or teaching assistant, if you encounter technical difficulties. Everyone wants to support you in removing roadblocks as soon as possible, so you can get back to learning!

The UBC Life blog offers general exam guidance in a studying for exams in a time crunch » post. The Chapman Learning Commons also has a Preparing for Exams toolkit »

Parts of this section were adapted from the taking Canvas quizzes post » on the UBC Canvas tips blog.

Take proctored exams online

Exams taken in UBC online courses are typically proctored by recording yourself taking the exam or using web-conferencing to let an invigilator watch you. In either case:

  • Prepare your technical setup in advance. You will need a webcam. The tool your instructor uses may have other specific requirements to meet. Find out more on the technologies page.
  • Take a practice exam in the technology. Enrol in the “Exam Practice” course on Canvas, where the Chapman Learning Commons has set up practice exams you can try in tools like Proctorio, LockDown Browser, and more.
  • Identify a good place to take the exam. Start with setting up a study space, and make sure it has a reliable Internet connection and does not have anything visible that you don’t want to show on camera. If you’re in a tight living situation, ask your housemates to read a book quietly, watch a movie with headphones, nap, go for a walk, or run errands to give you space during exam time.
  • Expect the unexpected. Sometimes things will happen outside your control when taking an exam online, especially when you may not be in a space alone. Calmly explain any interruptions to the camera, and trust your instructor or invigilator will work with you to understand what happened.
  • Try not to stress about the proctoring. Invigilation is about making sure everyone plays fair. When that’s your intention, you have nothing to worry about. Once you’ve arranged your technology and location, focus on studying.

Tip #1:
If you are worried that something about your personal situation may look like cheating, talk to your instructor ahead of time or send an email later to express any concerns that came up during the exam. If the situation is related to a disability, ask for accommodations »

Tip #2:
Don’t hesitate to contact your instructor or teaching assistant, if you encounter technical difficulties. Everyone wants to support you in removing roadblocks as soon as possible, so you can get back to learning!

The main online remote proctoring tool at UBC is Proctorio »

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Get support

  • Academic – Reach academic advisors, accessibility advisors & tutoring options
  • Financial – Connect with Enrolment Services advisors
  • Technology – Contact UBC IT, Collaborate Ultra, and Proctorio
  • Wellness – Find counselling services, medical appointments & sexual violence support

Mon-Fri | 9:00-5:00 — Chapman Learning Commons Online Assistants are trained peers ready to help answer your questions about academic support and UBC learning technologies (such as Canvas, Collaborate Ultra, Zoom, and more). Ask questions live or by email.


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