‘Zoomed in’: A guide to staying engaged during an untraditional semester

Whether you’re distance learning in your parent’s basement or a cramped dorm room, distractions are everywhere. Here’s how to stay focused when it’s easier to shop online than learn online.

Emalyn Muzzy

Between roommates, poor study spaces and unlimited access to cell phones, it’s become tough for students to stay attentive during online classes. Despite these challenges, some University of Minnesota students have discovered tricks for staying “Zoomed in” to lectures.

When learning from home, it’s difficult to minimize distractions and pay attention to Zoom lectures. But, according to University psychology professor Thomas Brothen, changing routines and using different strategies will help things go a bit smoother.

Brothen recommends isolating yourself from any distractions, including your phone, the TV and talkative roommates.

“The killer is multitasking,” Brothen said. “You just can’t keep track of everything going on at once.”

Abigail Chiaokhiao, a second-year bioproducts and biosystems engineering major, said she tries to turn off her phone and alerts her family when she’s about to start a lecture.

“If I don’t tell my family that I have, like, a meeting or an event or something, then they’ll just barge in, and then suddenly I’m talking to them instead of writing down notes,” she said.

Skip Seegert, a fourth-year fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology major, said in order to block out unnecessary background noise, he wears noise-canceling headphones during Zoom classes. He added that he struggles with his short attention span the most.

“I have a hard time focusing on lectures for extended periods of time,” said Seegert. “I can pay attention for maybe, like, 10 to 15 minutes before I start to get distracted.”

Brothen suggested students work with their attention spans rather than against them.

“Instead of an hour lecture … I put my lecture material in short segments,” Brothen said. He said by breaking information up into 10-15 minute long videos, students get attention breaks.

If professors post asynchronous lectures, Brothen recommended students stop the lecture video when they start to lose focus, take a short break and then start the video again. He also advised professors to provide breaks during synchronous Zoom lectures.

If you’re like Seegert, who describes himself as a hands-on learner who prefers labs to lectures, it’s important to keep those hands busy. To keep himself listening during class, he likes to crochet.

“I have something called my never-ending scarf,” Seegert said. “It’s just a single stitch crochet type of thing. It’s very basic, just something to keep my hands going.”

Fourth-year math major Teresa Fisher said she concentrates best by taking notes.

She takes handwritten notes because it helps her retain the class information better.

When Fisher starts zoning out, she said she understands that, like Brothen recommends, she needs a short break.

Fisher said, “Sometimes I’ll kind of just sit back for a minute, take a drink of water and kind of check in where they are in the notes.”