What have you missed most during the isolation of the pandemic? For most of us, it’s being in the same room with real humans, visiting with friends and family, and meeting new people.
During the pandemic, many students faded into the background of their Zoom classrooms. Participation became more passive, and it was easy for students to hide out. My 8th-grade grandson didn’t turn on his webcam, so he appeared in Zoom meetings as a blank avatar with a name tag. When he goes back to school in person, who will recognize him?
College students aren’t too different. In my decades of teaching first-year college students, I’ve seen that many students avoid talking one-on-one with their professors, and it’s especially true for the students who need help the most. Some students hide out, even in a face-to-face class, as if they’re a silhouette with a name tag.
It’s likely that colleges will return to face-to-face instruction in the fall, and it’s an opportunity to rethink personal interaction. Even if it’s uncomfortable at first, it’s essential to get the most out of your educational investment in time and money. Here are my top tips:
Visit office hours in person for every course you have. Early and often. Students often wrongly assume that office hours are for the desperate. But in reality, they help you get to know your professors in ways you can’t during class. Stopping by early to introduce yourself can pay off later when you have a question, need advice, or want to ask for a letter of recommendation.
Professors love getting to know their students! And they’ve especially missed it during the pandemic, so this fall is a perfect time to say hello. If you’re shy about stepping foot inside the office door, start with a question at the end of class.
Meet other students in each of your classes. You need to know at least one other student in each of your classes. If you miss a class, ask that person about what you missed. No professor likes getting a “Did I miss anything?” email in their inbox.
When professors enter the classroom, they would rather see students talking to each other than staring at their cell phones. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to other students when you come early or on your way out of class.
A study group is an excellent support system for classwork. Talking with classmates will help you structure your studying and cement your understanding about course content. Though an in-person study session is best, your pandemic-perfected Zoom skills can be your back-up if you can’t meet in person.
Appreciate being in class in person. Be there 100%. Shed the distraction of texting or surfing the internet on your laptop while pretending to take notes. You did enough of that while you were attending online classes and Zoom meetings. Participate in discussions and be prepared to ask questions.
Use campus in-person resources. When you need help locating information resources, go in person to the reference desk in any campus library and say you need help. The librarian will be more than happy to help you. In fact, the more you ask, the more they like it. You are not distracting them from their work—this is their job!
Many campuses offer free tutoring centers for certain content areas. The tutors are paid whether anyone shows up to get help or not. So don’t hesitate to take advantage of these resources.
The campus writing center can be a great source of support in your writing. Warning—you need to go early rather than the day before an assignment is due. Usually you will need to make an appointment.
Short term and long term payoffs. These personal connections will benefit you in terms of your academic success and your sense of belonging to a community, and you’ll see the effect in your personal network and likely your grades. Interactions with professors, peers, and campus professionals will also carry you well beyond your college years when personal skills will be crucial to success in your professional life.
Dana Johnson is the author of Will This Be on the Test? What Your Professors Really Want You to Know About Succeeding in College. She is retired from teaching math and education at the College of William and Mary.