The trees in High Park are starting to wear a few rust-coloured leaves. The occasional chilly evening forces us to reach into the back of our closet for a jacket. And whenever you turn on the radio, you’re hit with commercials for back-to-school savings. That’s right – it’s almost September again, the beginning of another traditional school year.
While OES operates year-round, accommodating summer learners and get-ahead studiers, we understand that many online students still adhere to the conventional “September to June” school year. As such, we want to welcome you back to online school in Ontario. We hope the summer was restful and exciting in equal measure, and that you’re keen to jump back on the digital saddle for another successful year at OES.
Consider this blog post an introductory guide to the year ahead. Below, we’ll explore some successful online learning strategies, handy online learning tools and advice for making this year your best yet. We’ll cover current hot topics like AI and plagiarism (yikes!), as well as evergreen topics like time management and note-taking.
With an open mind and an open laptop, let’s start the year off right!
Artificial Intelligence Is No Replacement for Real Human Intelligence
If you followed the headlines over the summer, you’re undoubtedly familiar with ChatGPT, an AI-powered content generation tool that skyrocketed in popularity this past year. The technology has its champions and detractors, with some saying that it can solve several problems – and others decrying it as the potential death of human creativity.
But both sides can agree on one thing: used incorrectly, it can be detrimental to learning. To illustrate our point, consider taxi drivers in London, England (we promise this is going somewhere). Around a decade ago, scientists studied the brains of London taxi drivers and found that they had enlarged hippocampi (the area of the brain associated with memory). This was because taxi drivers in the vast, complex city of London needed to memorize around 25,000 urban streets. But after the introduction of apps like Google Maps and Waze, that rote memorization became unnecessary. Taxi drivers can now outsource their knowledge.
We outsource knowledge all of the time. Rather than memorize phone numbers (as we did in the “old days”), most people rely on their phone’s contacts list to keep the score. Rather than mentally calculate a tip at a restaurant, we rely on the pin pad to do the heavy lifting.
But what happens when we start outsourcing actual critical thinking and creativity? We start losing those innate human abilities. And that’s why educational experts and student advocates strongly discourage AI tools outside of a safe, sanctioned classroom setting. We can’t have artificial intelligence replacing human intelligence. After all, we need education to become smart enough to create the next generation of emerging technologies!
(As a side note, teachers can always tell if a student has used something like ChatGPT – they have sophisticated AI detection tools at their disposal!).
To Err Is Human: Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes
What causes the occasional student to resort to AI-generation tools? We believe that it’s a misplaced fear of messing up. It’s natural to want to avoid making mistakes – avoid seeing a low grade on an assignment or corrections on a written paper. But mistakes are what define our academic mettle.
As the Enlightenment-Era author Alexander Pope famously said, “To err is human.” It’s okay to make mistakes. In fact, they can be some of our greatest learning opportunities. If you don’t get the mark you were hoping for on an assignment this year, evaluate what went amiss and set clear goals to ensure that you succeed next time. This leads us to our next tip…
Establishing Goals Is a Fantastic Way to Kick Off a Successful School Year
Now, we move to more evergreen advice, beginning with a short plug for goal-setting. As we’ve stated elsewhere on this blog, goals are the bedrock of successful personalized education planning. Consider these online learning tools an effective way to keep yourself motivated during the school year. They can force you to achieve your highest potential, and they can even create a roadmap toward more significant long-term goals, like a dream career.
As you create your goals for the 2023/2024 school year, be S.M.A.R.T. about them! In other words, create goals that are:
- Specific: I.e., “I want at least a B-plus in my Grade 12 Physics course.”
- Measurable: “I can measure my progress by calculating my marks in various assignments and tests.”
- Achievable: “My goal won’t be an A-plus in Physics 12, because that’s an unduly challenging feat that may shock my confidence, hamper my motivation and leave me disheartened.”
- Relevant: “This goal is relevant to my life because I want to attend university to become a civil engineer.”
- and Time-Sensitive: “I have eight months to complete this goal.”
Take an afternoon to devise a few critical goals for the year ahead. Keep these goals somewhere accessible (a desktop file or notes app, e.g.). And revisit your goals regularly to ensure you stay on track.
Weaving Those Goals into a Schedule Helps with Long-Term Time Management
A goal without a schedule is like a boat without a paddle – it’s lovely to look at, but it won’t get you anywhere. That’s why we at OES routinely emphasize the merits of time management. It really is one of the most effective study habits a student can practice.
Especially in self-paced online schools like OES, it’s important to devise a long-term time-management strategy. Consider breaking your course down into units and sections and transposing those sections onto a schedule. For instance, if you hope to complete a five-unit course in five months, you can allocate one month for each unit. You can obviously be flexible as you start learning, but it’s nice to have that structure in place.
Consider online learning tools like Evernote, Todoist or Trello to help you construct a schedule.
Creating a Short-Term Time Management Strategy Helps You Stay Focused
Long-term time-management strategies are wonderful for that high-level, birds-eye view of your studies. Unfortunately, they don’t help you in the moment – as you fiddle with your desk drawer, flip through your phone or just generally procrastinate while studying.
To kick procrastination to the curb, you need short-term strategies too. Unlike long-term scheduling, short-term time management is more concerned with ensuring that you stay focused and present during your allotted study hours.
There are several strategies to try, but the one we typically recommend is called the Pomodoro Method. The method involves alternating short study “bursts” with short and long breaks, ensuring that your brain is always sharp, attentive and rested enough to receive more information. Learn how to practice the Pomodoro Method at this link (there are also some useful free apps that follow the method).
Alongside the Pomodoro method, consider online learning tools like focus apps to block distraction (they essentially bar you from specific websites and socials for the duration of your studies).
Setting the Scene for Success: Making a Dedicated Study Space Encourages Productivity
There’s a good reason why offices were invented. Away from the distractions and humdrum chores of a domestic space, people are able to concentrate easier. When they go to work, they know they’re going to work. They dress the part, sit at a desk tailor-made for productivity and surround themselves with the tools they need to get the job done.
The same principles apply to studying. When you set the scene, you set yourself up for success. If possible, find a quiet room in your home, away from the temptations of TVs, game consoles and raucous siblings. If you can’t find a quiet zone in your home, consider studying at a public library or (if the weather’s nice) a serene park. Gather everything you need for the day: a computer, a charger, a notebook, a pen, a water bottle, etc. And consider dressing out of your PJs and into some daytime clothes (trust us, it will make you feel more productive).
In our blog post on how to create a productive learning space, we cover a few more tips and tricks. Click the link for further ideas.
From Z to A: A Dependable Sleep Schedule Is More Important Than You Think
Wait, you might be thinking, isn’t the saying “from A to Z”?
Yes – but here, we’re talking about your Zzz’s can help you get A’s. Studies show that sufficient sleep has positive effects on memory, concentration and mood. By contrast, poor sleep schedules can leave you feeling foggy, forgetful and irritable.
If you want to give yourself the best possible chance of understanding and retaining the information in your courses, you must start with consistent and sufficient sleep. Teenage students need around 8 to 10 hours of sleep, whereas continuing students over 18 can get by on seven hours or more. Experts recommend maintaining a consistent schedule where you go to bed at the same time each night and wake at the same time each morning.
You might be surprised how much this little lifestyle tweak can improve your academic performance!
Physical Activity Helps You Concentrate and Improves Your Memory
The body needs rest. But it also needs activity. You can thank our evolutionary forebears for this. Over the course of human evolution, we’ve acquired certain adaptations that reward us (for lack of a better word) for physical activity. And while we no longer have to run long distances to hunt our dinner, our bodies retain those reward mechanisms: upping our feel-good dopamine neurotransmitters and lowering our stress-inducing cortisol levels.
What does this mean for students? A little physical activity can help lower your stress during particularly eventful school periods (i.e., exam season). And according to Harvard Medical School, exercise can also improve memory and thinking skills. Next time a parent asks why you’re out shooting hoops in the middle of the day, tell them it’s to help with schoolwork!
Fiddle with Note-Taking Strategies to See Which Fits You Best
Note-taking is an effective way to retain information. The simple act of jotting down relevant snippets from a lecture or reading allows your brain to attach itself to those concepts. Think of it as a kind of mental spotlight.
But there’s no one right way to take notes. Some students like the intense structure of Cornell Notes. Others prefer the freewheeling liberty of a mind map. Some like the cascading simplicity of the Outline Method. And others prefer to just punch everything into a note-taking app, which guides the structuring process.
All these note-taking methods are successful online learning strategies. Try each of them to find out which works best for you. You can learn more about note taking for online students in OES’ guide, linked directly to the left.
Leverage Your Unique Education
Lastly, we implore you to use your unique online education to your advantage. OES is proud to be a fully supportive, self-paced, multi-media school environment. It’s your job to make the most of it.
First, use our layers of support to pull yourself up when you don’t understand something; talk to your receptive teachers, knowledgeable counsellors or 24/7 tutors for answers. Second, make the most of our flexible approach by getting ahead in your studies, taking grade 12 courses online to graduate faster. And third, manage your engagement with the course material by making full use of the diverse multi-media tools at your disposal. Our online learning tools are here for your benefit, so make the most of them!
We hope you’ve gleaned some insights from these strategies for online learning and effective online learning tools. As always, if you have any burning questions about the year ahead, please do not hesitate to contact us. Book an academic counselling appointment for a comprehensive exploration of your year ahead, or reach out to us directly with inquiries.
We look forward to seeing everyone’s “computer-camera faces” this coming September for another productive, flexible and successful year at OES.