Student Resources

Tips for Online Learning and Success

By Justin Talkington

Tips for Online Learning and Success

Lessons from Dion to Disney for thriving in your virtual classroom

Always remember that U and I are stuck next to one another on the keyboard for a reason; and no, it’s not because I spilled craft glue on my laptop back in 2018 and didn’t clean it up properly. (That’s why M and N are stuck together.) U and I are stuck together because every time you open up your computer in the morning and prepare yourself for class, it’s a reminder that for the next however many hours you’re logged in, you’re not alone.

Togetherness builds strength, and strength inspires courage. Courageous people accomplish great things. Fusion’s elite team of teachers are some of the most creatively and academically gifted mentors I have ever met. When Fusion first introduced its virtual instruction model, I knew something wonderful was about to happen. So when asked about advice for online learning and success, I just had to bring some magic. I hope that some of these helpful tips and tricks from a humble and quirky Fusion Academy teacher will make you smile and equip you to bring your own magic to your virtual learning.

 

Celine Dion and Thousands of Spiders: Cultivating Joy

My professional ambition as an educator is driven by a mindset that what we learn with joy we never forget. From core academics to daily habits, it is joy that we must cultivate in ourselves in order to self-empower and live the life of which we are capable. One of the first tips I give any teacher or student who is about to embark on the exciting voyage of virtual learning, is fall in love with generating your own kind of joy throughout the day.

Surround yourself with things that improve your focus, calm your mind, inspire productivity, and make you smile. For some, that might mean an adorable mug with Celine Dion’s face on it which stays constantly full of hazelnut coffee or English Breakfast tea. For others, it’s an antique lamp and fountain pen on your grandfather’s old farmhouse desk. A spot near an open window. An oversized sweater and reading glasses. Your German Shepherd sleeping at your feet. Or maybe it’s just a handful of chocolate and yellow fuzzy socks.

For me, having a live plant on my desk has always brought me joy throughout the day. I was in love with this cat palm which sat in the corner of my home office and drank up sunlight all day. It later got infested with thousands of baby spider eggs and they hatched before my partner or I noticed. We have since burned down our home in a fit of screams and to this day if I see a cat palm I light it on fire just to be safe. Point is, generate joy however possible and build your virtual learning sanctuary.

Craft your space so that you look forward to sitting there all morning or afternoon (or both). For goodness sakes, change out of your pajamas and into some comfortable jeans and that cute sweater you got on sale at H&M, open the blinds to let some of that shine pour in, kiss your Keurig and tell her thank you for the hard work she puts in every morning, and get excited about learning. I promise, rolling out of bed fifteen minutes before class (or less), staying in your sweatpants, and eating a slice of cold leftover pizza will only sling-shot you back into bed within the hour.

Build a space and practice that you can fall in love with and I guarantee that inspiration will be only a few shorts steps behind. Do this again the next day, and the next day, and the next day. If you need to switch your mug from Celine Dion to Black Sabbath some days, hey, we’ve all been there. Point is, either you run your day or it runs you. Setting intentions and creating a space that inspires creativity and focus is where we begin and end. If your intentions are good, your space is clean, your body is nourished, and your zen-inspiring foliage has no spider eggs, I think you’ll be ready to rock. Also, let it be known, I find nothing wrong with waking up on a Saturday morning and eating cold pizza.

 

A Spoonful of Sugar: Asking Questions and Inviting Vulnerability

So let me just quickly state that Julie Andrews is a saint. But I do indeed have a bone to pick with Mary Poppins. In the 1964 musical, Mary Poppins states, “First of all, I would like to make one thing clear: I never explain anything.” Now, in the world of online learning, the opportunities for miscommunication can be higher than when sitting in the same physical room instead of a virtual one, so it’s important to ask questions and explain feelings.

The biggest success stories for virtual instruction start and end with both the student and teacher making the agreement to be and stay curious. Every course at Fusion is approached from a mindset that through love, we motivate, and through motivation, we teach. When the three are combined, our minds grow wings and we fly to new heights. If there is love in the virtual classroom, risk-taking and curiosity are not only encouraged, but they are nurtured.

As soon as you sign in to your virtual class, the call to vulnerability is sounded, safe-space is assumed, questions are signs of strength, willingness to try is empowering, and flexibility is a considered superpower.  If a student or a teacher is not absolutely ecstatic about the opportunity to ask or answer questions, pace the class as both see fit, and jump at the chance to slay “perfectionism” like a cyber-dragon, the course will be stale and lack that one incredible component that all Fusion courses absolutely must possess: the passion for unlocking potential. Establish a clear set of learning goals, consider the various paths you could take to reach those goals, stay flexible, and be in love with taking chances. You got this!

 

Shake Your Groove Thing: Taking Care of Your Body and Brain

I am a firm believer that teachers and students alike should challenge themselves to a minimum of twenty minutes of exercise before any day of virtual classes if for no other reason than your brain has not yet had enough time to wake-up and figure out what the heck you’re doing and why! Starting the day with two minutes of squats sets you up for handling the “ups and downs” of anything else that’s thrown at you during the day. It is essential in the incredible world of online learning that you move your body. An active mind cannot exist in an inactive body.

Lethargy and stiffness do not discriminate and will strike at any moment if you’re not mindful of really rewarding your body for sitting still for 50-minutes with at least a few minutes of stretching, jumping jacks, trampoline bouncing (a personal favorite), or just putting on that new J-Lo song and shaking your groove thing. Build a playlist that brings all your dancing divas and 90’s heartthrobs together and title it “Passing Period Party Pack”. As someone who has loved virtual instruction and teaches online for eight or more hours a day, I shake my groove thing at least thrice daily.

Aside from exercise and movement, eat nutrient-dense foods as often as possible. Those who think they do not have time for healthy eating will sooner or later find out that they have far too little time for feeling lethargic and unmotivated. Sneaking Sour Patch Kids into your mouth and pretending you’re yawning whilst teaching a Health class will not give you the energy you need to get through your day (I tried, I failed); but, an apple or cup of tea and some fibrous crackers might!

Point being, any classroom setting, be it in a school or at home, requires us to sit for long periods of time. The brain may be racing and the conversation may be jumping back and forth, but that doesn’t mean we are gifting ourselves the joys of movement, alignment, and mindful breathing. Move, move, move. Give yourselves that gift as often as possible. (Also gift yourself Sour Patch Kids once in a while, they’re delicious.)

May I speak to the (time) manager, please? Balance and Boundaries with Tech

If you’re not using it for class, drop your phone in your little brother or child’s tarantula cage and come back for it once classes are over. Your TikTok and Snapchat and TikChat and SnapTok were not invited to class; so, kindly bid your Twitter followers a good day and commit yourself to the art of one-to-one connection. Also, never get your child a tarantula, they belong in the jungles of Wisconsin or wherever they hail from.

Christian Lous Lang once stated with intention, “Technology is a useful servant, but a dangerous master.” Christian knew what he was talking about, guys. We are all Alice and technology is the door that led us to this magical Wonderland of online instruction. Our challenge during class is to avoid getting stuck at the mad, mad tea party that is Instagram, Facebook, Netflix, and Etsy.

Technology and social media are insanely fun tools during class time if it serves the purpose of leading students down a path to independent or asynchronous learning, meaningful online engagement, and healthy social interactions in this new “digital era” in which we live. The hurricane of apps and games and Photoshop and streaming services can draw hours out of our day and cause our eyes to cross; however, when used appropriately, these tools can provide genius creative outlets for both teacher and student as they explore new content.

Be your own boss and manage your time like you’re shooting to be employee of the year. In my own experience, students have enlightened me on what’s trending and available online as much as I have them; so, this can be a fun abyss to explore when done with strong boundaries and intention.

So, if Technology is the door to Wonderland and we are Alice (slightly adjusts blonde wig), then Zoom must be the White Rabbit who has led us deeper into this magical world of knowledge and excitement. For any young children reading this (or adults with a love for silliness and magic) please do not follow small rabbits into dark holes in the ground. The results are far less “animated excitement” and far more “embarrassing story your kids will tell at parties.”

Zoom is the modern-enterprise video conferencing program that we use to build our cozy little virtual classrooms, school gyms, lunch hangouts, and extra-curricular havens. It’s incredible. The most clear-cut tip I can provide you when starting your virtual education is: know your video conferencing software like the back of your hand. Knowing the ins-and-outs of Zoom takes you from apprentice to wizard status so quickly, and then you’re able to just have some fun and give each session some variety and ease (i.e. share your screen, play around with filters and fun add-ons, split sound, play videos, etc.).

You aren’t able to simply walk into a brick-and-mortar classroom, smile at your teacher/student, and sit down at your desk; so, you’ll need to explore your virtual classroom and get organized. Spending an hour or two familiarizing yourself with Zoom or taking an online tutorial will really allow you to “zoom” through any tech issues that can (infrequently) present themselves.

Familiarize yourself and build your confidence within the program. With preparedness comes confidence, and with confidence we build upon the mindset of the ridiculously great things we are capable of. That sounds like a pretty fantastic way to start any class. Okay, I’ve made my point, you can go get your phone out of the tarantula cage now…and may the odds be ever in your favor.

We’re All in This Together: A Conclusion

You’ve now ventured through my Disneyworld of tips and tricks for our new virtual adventure together. Try them on and see if they fit for you, if they don’t, let it go and do what works for you. If you ever need help – ask! Your teachers are navigating this virtual world just like you are and are here to support you. Remember: we’re all in this together.

 

Justin Talkington
About the Author

Justin Talkington is the National Department Head of Performing Arts and Physical Education at Fusion Academy. He is based at the Fusion Park Avenue campus in Manhattan. A rural Indiana transplant, Justin graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor's in the Fine Arts from Wright State University, majoring in Acting with an emphasis in Musical Theatre.

Justin balances his performance career with his positions at Fusion Academy Park Avenue as the Electives Department Head, Wellness Lead, Community Minds Lead, Learning & Development Facilitator, and Teacher/Mentor. A proud member of Actor's Equity Association, Justin has toured nationally with five-time Grammy-nominated singer, pianist and music revivalist Michael Feinstein. Justin is a resident artist at Spot-On Entertainment and performs with symphonies across the country as well as at Feinstein's 54 Below, the Metropolitan Room, Town Hall, and Laurie Beechman Theater in New York City.

When he is not teaching or spreading some Fusion sunshine, Justin can be found writing or sketching at the nearest Starbucks, escaping the craziness of the city by hiking and exploring upstate New York, hanging with friends and family or most likely singing and dancing down the sidewalk.

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