Third-year MACP student Susannah Brister describes the online learning best practices she developed through her time at The Seattle School. We’re hopeful these ideas might give you a head start on considering what your own best practices will be.

Many of us have developed our own best practices for working, learning, and socializing online, and I am no exception. When I started online at The Seattle School as a first-year MACP student in the fall of 2020, I jumped into a more highly digitized form of learning than I had experienced before. I hadn’t even thought far enough ahead to set up a desk yet, so I spent the initial classes of the term mostly failing to situate my laptop, notebooks, headphones and reference materials in a precarious balance around my armchair.

The Office of Students and Alumni and the Office of Academics will have plenty of resources to set you up for success and, as a fellow student, I’d also love to share with you a few tips and tricks from my own experience that might be useful as you join your low residency cohort this fall.

Put thought into your study space

Set up a learning-from-home space that supports your body as well as your attention. Make sure your furniture and computer screen are configured ergonomically, so your posture feels natural and doesn’t build up strain over time. Even small, easy adjustments can help, like setting your laptop on top of a few books so you don’t have to bend your neck to see the screen.

Maximize your ability to be present by planning ahead on technical details like wifi connectivity, lighting and audio. Is your study space close to your internet modem for optimal connectivity? Do you need noise-canceling headphones to minimize distractions like street noise? You might also want to make sure you have a bright light source that you can set up behind your laptop so your face is well-lit during class or small group meetings.

Be strategic about study time

Find a way to plan ahead that works for you. At the beginning of each term, I like to make a one-page table with a column for each class I’m taking and a row for each week of the term. Then I plot out the due dates of major assignments for each class so I can, at a glance, see which study weeks will be heavier or lighter. Whatever method works for you, looking at the bigger picture can help you avoid stress in the long run.

Prioritize the readings and assignments that matter most to you. As a graduate student at The Seattle School, you will be offered an abundance of reading and learning resources, likely more than you can realistically complete. Note the readings and assignments you want to spend the most time and reflection on, and cultivate the art of skimming for the rest, knowing you can always come back to them later.

Find rhythms of rest

Practice grounding. Your mind and body will be working overtime to process all of the technological engagement and content you’re taking in, so support them by rooting into your physical space. Take stretch breaks as needed. Rest your eyes by looking out a window. Get outside, breathe deep, and maybe even put your feet in some grass.

Set boundaries for schoolwork. For me, learning online means it’s more difficult to feel natural, clear boundaries around what is and isn’t study time. If I’m not careful, I can fall into patterns of studying just about anytime I have a free moment–which leads to burnout. Set limits on how much study you will do per day or per week, and if you can, schedule intentional no-study time to rest and replenish.

Connect with your cohort

Take advantage of office hours with faculty and assistant instructors. Just because you aren’t in Seattle doesn’t mean your only access to your professors is through email. Look for the office hour times listed on your class syllabi, and spend a few minutes getting to know and be known by the people leading your classes.

As you form new relationships within your cohort, consider what kind of technological interactions feel most connective to you. Do you prefer to interact in real time, or in writing? In groups, or one-on-one? Spontaneously, or on a schedule? Plan accordingly: connect on social media, form text or email threads, or set up study calls with classmates.

With readings and class lectures, conversations and on campus residencies, essays and community rhythms, your first year at The Seattle School will hold much to encounter and integrate. Along the way, I hope you develop your own toolkit of best practices that help make your time as a student both deeply formative and sustainable.