I'm a college professor who's teaching virtually during the pandemic. Here are 7 things my most successful students do on Zoom.

I'm a college professor who's teaching virtually during the pandemic. Here are 7 things my most successful students do on Zoom.
Dr. Kasey Lynn Thompson says a professional appearance is still important for virtual learning.Dr. Kasey Lynn Thompson
  • Dr. Kasey Lynn Thompson is an author and assistant professor of ethics, business, and strategy at Ferris State University.
  • While teaching virtually during COVID-19, Thompson says she's noticed key differences between successful and struggling students.
  • She explains how preparing ahead, being alert and engaged, and connecting with classmates can help students excel.

Like many educators, I swapped my classroom for an unfamiliar and eerily stark virtual lecture hall during the pandemic. As a professor to over 200 business students, my ability to quickly acclimate and adapt was key; however, my greater concern was for my students and whether they would successfully transition to the new Zoom environment. "They're business students," I'd remind myself, "they're tough and resilient. Plus, the unexpected conversion to Zoom is a practical lesson in vigilance, right?"

At the start of the fall 2020 semester, I made a concerted effort to learn more about my students on a personal level to help make our virtual exchanges feel more normal.

By the fourth week of Zoom lectures, I noticed behavioral patterns that correlated with the student's grades and overall performance. By week eight, it was evident that certain students were more cheerful, more engaged, and seemingly performing better than others in the new virtual format. By week 16, seven clear and distinct behaviors emerged among higher-performing students, regardless of the course or their academic level.
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From my observations, the seven behaviors were not indicators of intelligence, but rather reflective of the student's approach to learning in the unpredictable virtual environment.

I've highlighted my seven key observations (or seven proverbs of Zoom, as I call them) below, plus helpful tips for current and future students who are preparing for another semester of courses delivered via Zoom.

1. Grooming is still essential

Too often, students would shirk the need to address their physical appearance, and then when called upon, they would shrink in the moment, citing how they looked as the excuse for non-participation. Approach your class session as if you were attending an actual business meeting.
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Wash your face, fix your hair, and get dressed for the virtual class. The act of physically changing out of loungewear into "outside clothes" also helped successful students transition their mindset from relaxation to a state of learning readiness.

2. Move away from the bed trap

Join your class from a room other than your bedroom. However, if your bedroom is the only option, get out of bed and find a space where you can sit upright and remain focused. Laying down created a noticeably slothful response, and without seeing the student, I could hear a slower, more passive speaking pace than students who were sitting up and away from their beds. Jar yourself into a level of alertness by moving from the space you equate to mental and physical rest.
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Read more: 10 productivity hacks and focus tips for surviving Zoom school, from a current medical student

3. Clean your workspace

Overly cluttered surroundings can be distracting. Take pride in your physical space, and approach your workspace as if you were in a professional setting. You wouldn't want your boss seeing your personal paraphernalia strewn about, so have that same organized mindset when attending a virtual class.

Declutter your workspace and intentionally organize it so that it's conducive to learning. Students who couldn't locate notes or had to scramble for their textbook when asked a question generally did not do well in the end.
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4. Overly prepare

The pressure of being prepared for a virtual class may feel less intense. However, asking questions or adding to the dialogue during the session will help demonstrate your commitment to learning and your understanding of the course materials. Set a goal of having three questions or perspectives ready prior to each topic covered and if you don't share them during the live session, send them to your professor directly via email.

5. Engage with your professor

Building a rapport in a virtual environment is vital, so continue to contact your professor outside of the regular class sessions. Introducing yourself and initiating dialogue strengthens your relationship in the absence of physical contact. The more opportunities I had to connect with my students outside of Zoom helped bolster dialogue during the live class sessions.

Read more: What to do if someone on your work Zoom does something weird, according to an etiquette expert
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6. Connect with your classmates

We're all in this together, so leave comments in the Chat section before the class starts (i.e., say hello, tell a joke, communicate how you may be feeling at the time). Ask questions, agree, or disagree via chat, but by all means, speak with your classmates. Your overt effort to connect enriches the learning experience and can make the virtual environment more enjoyable for everyone.

7. Share the authentic you

Every successful A and B-level student joined each class session live. Top students never just slapped their name on a blank screen or used a static picture to represent themselves. They all actively participated by sharing their live video feed, which allowed them to be fully present. They spoke directly to their classmates and me, and they wanted their perspectives heard.

Even in tough, unpredictable environments, students and professionals who work hard to put their best foot forward are the ones who will be successful. Despite their challenging situations, the business students who were determined to succeed did so in a big way. They didn't allow the obstacle of uncertainty to stop them from excelling, virtually or not.
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Dr. Kasey Lynn Thompson is an assistant professor of ethics, business, and strategy at Ferris State University and former director of Global Menu Strategy for a Fortune 250 company. She is the author of the upcoming book, "Fall Down, Gritty Up - The Unconventional Mental Map for Becoming Your Own Hero." Dr. Thompson is also the proprietor of Pendulum Publishing, a consulting firm in Michigan. Learn more on her website.

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