Once again we were reminded last week how a good attitude has a huge influence on our achievements. In her Education Week Teacher article, “Student Success Linked to Positive Outlook,” Liana Heiten provided information on a Gallup, Inc. survey of almost one million grade 5-12 students (23 August, 2012). The results showed that two-thirds of grade-level students are “hopeful about their futures,” “engaged in their learning,” and “have high well-being” (Heiten, L., 23 August, 2012). This translates into a 13% higher level of academic achievement (though some are claiming 30%) that is not tied to family incomes or other factors beyond these three traits and their overarching belief that a better life in the future is within their reach and power (Gallup, Inc. qtd. in Heiten, L., 23 August, 2012).
Other studies have shown a similar correlation between college students’ attitudes and their academic achievement (e.g., Benford, R., & Gess-Newsome, J., “Factors Affecting Student Academic Success in Gateway Courses at Northern Arizona University,” 24 May, 2006). This is perhaps not surprising; however, the reality is that having a positive attitude is difficult amid the distractions of adult life. This is especially true of most online students who are juggling family and work along with school (2011).
How does such an online student develop a positive attitude while dealing with all of these responsibilities? The answer is to become more conscious of your attitude and to turn life’s distractions into tools of assistance for academic achievement.
Although it sounds trite, becoming more aware of your own attitude and making a sincere effort to keep it positive can help. There may also be triggers in your life that set off negative feelings, so learning what these are and how to avoid or lessen their effect can be very helpful.
For example, Ferris State University’s Educational and Career Counseling Center offers a helpful document titled, “Developing a Positive Mindset: Changing Your Attitude to Change Your Life” (n.d.). I’ll summarize some of its most beneficial tips and add some examples here:
• Reflect on the reasons you’re going to college and what your future goals may be. For example, do you hope to obtain a better job and an improved standard of living for yourself and your family?
• Articulate this goal clearly and concretely. You may want to write down the steps needed to reach this goal and create a checklist of steps that need to be accomplished on a near daily basis to get there. Then check off these small steps and notice how they lead toward the accomplishment of your goal.
• Watch what triggers emotions in your life and be vigilant that they are positive rather than negative. For instance, keep your words and those around you positive. Is your current situation (e.g., your job or financial outlook) less than what you would like? Could you use this to motivate you toward success?
• “Think twice before you act once,” meaning avoid the temptation to react to something on the spur of the moment while emotions are running high. Instead, take a step back to reflect and respond to the situation rationally.
• Network with other students and professors to create a positive support system, one that truly understands what you’re going through and where you hope to be.
• Look for good things in the experience, and remember that happiness is contagious. Sometimes laughing at your situation or yourself can help relax you so that you can move forward.
Although the above tips may sound corny, try them. I think you’ll discover that they do help you to overcome negative feelings and emotions so that you can focus on developing and maintaining a positive outlook. But what about those distractions?
Top Three Distractions
Writer Lori Johnston nicely summarized “The Three Most Common Distractions for Online Students,” (10 February, 2011). Examining each one of these and providing some suggestions on how you could harness them and use them to help propel you toward a positive attitude and your goal, you will see how you can do the same for any other distractions you may be experiencing.
1. Being unable to resist Facebook, Twitter and more!
Let’s face it. Online students access their virtual courses within the same electronic context they use to get into social media sites. As Johnston remarks, the fun photos and conversations with friends and family are only a click away. You may even have audio notifications set up so you can get the latest updates. All of this is distracting. Many students believe this isn’t that much of a distraction, but according to a study shared by ABCNews, 4.8 work hours and $120 million in productivity are lost annually because of this distraction (26 May, 2012). ABC explained that this results in nearly two hours per day per person. Note that this does not include other electronic distractions (e.g., television).
Johnston set students off in the right direction with the suggestion that links to social media be shut off. Better yet, she mentions getting the support of those in your social network by engaging them in your work and goals. She suggested telling your Tweeps and others that you need to go offline to work; ask them to follow up with you later to see what progress you’ve made.
Another tip may be to use social media for your assignments and some research. For example, you could brainstorm possible ideas for a paper with your social network, see what’s being discussed on blogs on a subject, or even survey your network on a subject as some primary research.
Basically, this comes down to controlling technology rather than letting it control you. Direct it toward ways that help you reach your goals and you’ll feel better about the progress you make.
2. Figuring out how online learning really works.
Johnston mentions that getting acclimated to the class’s Learning Management System (LMS) and how the course is set up becomes a distraction for many online students. This also leads to negative, defeatist feelings among students. Here, Johnston sets students off in the right direction by suggesting they take the extra time to explore the course site, find out how assignments are submitted, and allow extra time for potential technical issues.
Additionally, I would suggest that students consider taking one of the free online classes or tutorials that many schools offer. I know from my experience as an online instructor and department chair that few students take advantage of the tutorials available that give them a tour of the course site and other areas they will need to utilize. Keep in mind that most of these are fairly short (5-15 minutes), that they will answer many of your questions, and that they may be rewound and rewatched as needed. Taking advantage of resources such as these will prevent a lot of future frustration and possible setbacks. You will continue progressing toward your goal which should also help you maintain a positive attitude.
3. Being needed elsewhere.
As Johnston states, “The dog needs to go out, the kids need to be fed or taken to an activity, your boss is asking you to do another ‘drop everything’ for a work assignment… all of these and more combine to hinder your ability to get your coursework done.” Also, we know that as luck tends to have it, these things will happen at the exact moment you need to concentrate or to complete a large final project for a class. Johnston offers two excellent tips to help redirect these sorts of distractions:
• Make your schedule clear to everyone and carve out regular, defined times when you are going to be a student. Sharing this in writing with everyone can help. I would add that here, too, as with social media, you may be able to shut off some distractions. For example, I mute my phone or place it in another room when I need to concentrate.
• Use this distraction as a break from sitting at the computer. For instance, I’ve been an online student and I’ve worked virtually at home for nearly two decades. Usually you can strike a deal with kids: “Let me work for an hour without interruption; then we’ll go to the park.” To keep from sitting too long, I also make phone calls on my breaks from the computer, walk the dog, mow the yard, etc. Just be sure these breaks do not become distractions.
As a final tip, here again it is important to engage your boss, coworkers, family, and friends in helping with your goal. Make sure they see how your completing your education will benefit them, too, and that they understand how they can help. Why not see if your employer provides any assistance (e.g., tuition reimbursement or professional development time) or if your friends and family can help by taking over the household tasks you normally perform.
Overall, maintaining a positive attitude and succeeding as an online student will have its ups and downs. The key is to take control, redirect, and stay focused. Others have made it, and so will you. Feel free to share additional tips in the comments area below.
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