How to Stand Out in an Online Class

| Sarah Eilefson


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How do you stand out in an online class? It's actually easier than you might expect.

Online learning is more common than ever. For some students, it's a choice, because virtual learning provides more flexibility than traditional education. For other students, it's a byproduct of the COVID-19 era and has required some major adjustments.

Either way, it's just as important to stand out in a virtual classroom as it is in an in-person one. To help, here's a list of the top ways you can stand out in an online class.

1. Turn on Your Camera Whenever You Can

Most professors understand that some days you're just not camera-ready, but whenever you can, show up for class with your camera on.

That said, there are some things to keep in mind while you're in the spotlight. If you're scowling, rolling your eyes, or looking distracted, your professor will notice. Background activity is understandable, but don't have your phone out, start talking to your roommate, or spin away from the computer to do something else.

Many professors won't object to students who stand up (and turn their camera off) to stretch or refill their coffee cup during class. You don't need to be "on" 100% of the time, but generally looking engaged — with head nods and thumbs-ups — makes a big difference.

2. Speak Up During Class and Ask Questions

"Quick tip: Try to say your classmates' names when you can. This is a way to build relationships and help you stand out in a virtual setting."

If you have a question, there's a good chance someone else does, too. Speaking up not only helps you learn, but is also a way to look out for your classmates — and it makes sure that your professor is teaching to your class's specific needs and interests.

Similarly, responding to something your teacher or classmate said is a way to demonstrate your engagement and help advance the conversation. Quick tip: Try to say your classmates' names when you can. This is a way to build relationships and help you stand out in a virtual setting.

Speaking up and asking questions is especially crucial if your professor brought in a guest speaker. Your teacher went out of their way to find a guest speaker to enrich the class. Engaging with that speaker is a way to show that you're getting something out of this extra effort.

3. Leverage the Interactive Options

If you're not comfortable speaking out loud, leverage the engagement features of your online class instead. This can mean asking questions or leaving comments in the chat box, or hitting the thumbs-up icon during the lecture — especially when your professor looks for engagement or affirmation. Responding in real time is a great way to show you're paying attention in class without interrupting.

4. Navigate the Unmute Button

Some professors welcome interruption and prefer students to unmute when they want to speak up. Others prefer students to use the "raise your hand" option to be called on. If your professor hasn't made their preference known — in class or on the syllabus — don't hesitate to ask.

Most professors want students to participate, but you should make sure you do so in the appropriate manner. Going against the grain can impede the class discussion — and generate the opposite kind of attention from what you want from your professor.

5. Participate Promptly

One surefire way to catch a teacher's attention is to participate promptly. Delays in reacting or responding signal that you're distracted or inattentive.

One of the best examples of this is answering poll questions. As soon as one pops up on the screen, read the options and submit your (thoughtful) answers. And when a professor shares a link, be sure to open it and get on the same page as quickly as you can. Technical difficulties happen, of course, but it's best for that to be the exception rather than the rule.

6. Show Patience and Willingness to Help

Online learning is still a brave new world for many teachers and students. Try your best to show patience and grace for technical problems. This can mean keeping your face neutral if a classmate is having technical issues during a presentation, or even offering to help your classmate or teacher troubleshoot if you know how.

Remember: It's going to be common for kids or pets to enter the screen or even make noise in the background. Showing compassion for life happening behind the scenes is a wonderful way to be a team player.

It's also a good rule of thumb to test out systems well in advance of the due date. This can include discussion forums, workshops, peer reviews, assignment uploads, ect. You'll want to know where everything is located and have a general idea of how to use tools so you don't miss a due date due to technical troubles.

7. Connect With Your Teacher During Their Office Hours

Office hours are there for a reason. They're an excellent time to let the professor know what's working well and what isn't working for you. They are also an ideal time to ask for what you need to be successful — such as additional resources, extra time, or insights into a challenging academic question.

Not only can office hour meet-and-greets answer any questions you may have, but they're also a good way to build a connection with your teacher outside of the usual row of Zoom squares.

That said, email is another way you can connect. If there's a certain section or lesson that's confusing to you, reach out to your professor for more information. Whether you're attending office hours or sending an email, be sure to show respect and attentiveness and be as clear as you can with your questions or concerns.

8. Go the Extra Mile in Online Discussions

The online discussion form is one of the best places to really showcase your personality. Yes, you'll want to answer any of the assigned discussion questions, but this is also a good area to engage with your classmates.

Think of your role as playing improv. Rather than "yes/no," think of it as: "Yes, and..." This method can help push the conversation into unexpected and fruitful directions. If you agree with someone, it's a way to show interest and build on their ideas. And if you disagree, it's a way to appropriately express your opposition and make space to continue exploring the topic.

All of these methods combined can help you stand out to your teacher. Remember: Your professor might be dealing with dozens of students on separate screens, along with trying to navigate their own teaching materials. Doing what you can to stand out and contribute to the class conversation will not only impact your grade, but could also help you make connections for letters of recommendation or support with future projects.

Sarah Eilefson received her Ph.D. from Loyola University Chicago and teaches composition at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Her scholarly articles have appeared in Text & Presentation and Scholarly Editing, and she has contributed to a number of publications in the fields of healthcare and law enforcement

Header Image Credit: Tim Roberts, SolStock | Getty Images

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