Student Tips for Starting the Semester Remotely

With the announcement of the first week of classes for the spring semester to be conducted remotely online, this guide offers student tips for making the most of the first week of the semester. While we won’t be meeting in-person in classes during the first week of the spring semester, it is not a week off for students. There are important steps to take to make sure that your semester gets off to a strong start.

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Prioritize Your Well-Being

Focus on your mental health. We have all been stressed and overwhelmed by our experiences during the pandemic, and the trauma is cumulative. NIU's Counseling and Consultation Services is available to help through a full range of services, presentations and programs. To take advantage of their services, call 815-753-1206 to schedule an initial consultation.

Remember to exercise. Contrary to popular belief, sitting and studying for hours (or days) at a time is not the most effective way to go about it, nor is it healthy for our bodies or brains. Research shows that standing and moving around while you are studying and taking movement breaks in between study sessions has numerous benefits to our bodies, brains, memories, and academic performance. Stop by the Recreation Center to use their cardio and strength training equipment, which is included in your student fees (if you are taking classes at the main Dekalb campus) or find opportunities to incorporate walking, standing, or simple exercises during study breaks.

Sleep to succeed. Sleep plays a critical role in helping our bodies and minds recover and rejuvenate. The optimal amount of sleep for each person may vary, but generally research suggests 7-9 hours per night for college-aged populations. Lack of sleep can affect behavior, memory, emotions, and learning. Learn more about sleeping to succeed.

Take breaks. Taking regular breaks can help you be more productive, reduce your stress levels, and improve your recall. Not all breaks are created equal, however. Try being creative, moving or exercising, nourishing your body and mind, or socializing instead of using social media, reading and responding to emails, or surfing the internet.

Prepare Yourself

The new semester is an exciting time. It’s a time where you get to start fresh with new courses, meet new classmates and faculty, and face new challenges and opportunities that will stretch you in new ways. It’s important that you prepare yourself for the semester ahead so that you are ready to fully immerse yourself in your learning experience ahead.

Get back into your school routines. Over the break it has been great to step away from the routines of the semester, but it’s time now to get yourself back in the mindset and routine for attending classes and studying. Something as simple as restoring healthy sleep habits will help prepare your body and mind for the semester ahead.

Designate a space for your class work. Consider where you will best be able to focus on your course work and prepare that space where you can work. It should be a space where you can be free from interruptions and can focus. 

Plan a location for video conferencing sessions. If your courses will meet synchronously via video conferencing, find a space where you can be on camera. Ideally, you should look for a space with good lighting in front of you (as opposed to dimly lit or with a window or strong lighting behind you) where you can sit upright (such as a table and chair).

Gather your materials and tools.  If you haven’t already, check with the bookstore to see if there are required texts for your course and acquire them.  Be sure you have the supplies you need to make the most of your time.  This is also a good time to check your technology, be sure everything is running smoothly, you have downloaded the software tools you need, and have the hardware you will need to participate fully.

Consider your computer access. Do you have access to a computer in order to participate remotely in your classes as needed? If you don’t, the Library does have a limited number of laptops available for checkout. Email and include your Z-ID and full name in the email to set up a time to pick up a computer. Supplies are limited. NIU computer labs will also be open.

Be Proactive

We’re all in a very fluid situation as we’re doing our best to take the necessary precautions to protect our community and reduce disruptions to our learning due to COVID. It’s important that we all do our part to not only take care of ourselves but also proactively seek out the information and resources we need to be successful. The following activities can set you up for success:

Check your student email. The primary way in which both the university and your professors will be contacting you is emailing you at your NIU student email address. It’s critical that you check your email daily so you don’t miss any important messages. Your student email is where you’ll be receiving all official university messages. If you’ve not yet setup your phone to be able to receive your student email, now is good time to do so.

Seek out the expectations of your professors. You can look up your class schedule in MyNIU to see who is assigned to teach each of your courses and be on the lookout for communications from each. Faculty are encouraged to email their students at their student email address prior to the start of the semester. If you don’t hear from your professor by the weekend prior to the start of classes beginning, you can email them. See tips for emailing your professor.

Ask your professors how you are meeting the first week. Some of your classes may still be meeting synchronously online at a scheduled time in a video conferencing tool like Blackboard Collaborate, Teams or Zoom, while others might have activities that you’ll be expected to complete virtually, most likely in Blackboard. As you find out from your professors what their expectations are for the first week and how you are meeting remotely, jot down those details and mark those dates on your calendar so you don’t miss attending.

Login to Blackboard. Your professors are working prior to the start of the semester to prepare their Blackboard course for you and many will be opening their courses before the semester begins. Once your professor opens your Blackboard course, you’ll be able to see it in your list of Spring 2022 courses and you can then access the syllabus and other introductory course information. Be checking Blackboard regularly for your courses to be open to you. You can find many great tips for getting started with Blackboard on NIU’s Teaching and Learning with Blackboard website.

Download NIU apps to your phone. Here are some essential apps that it would be a good idea to install on your phone so that you can participate virtually in classes while on the go:

Get required course materials. Note in the syllabus or other course information you receive any required course textbooks or other materials and make sure you get the materials you need. You can also check with the bookstore to see if there are required texts for your course and acquire them. If it’s not clear to you what materials are required, email your professor and ask.

Contact the Division of IT Service Desk early if you need assistance. If you have any technical issues while preparing for the semester, (for example, you can't log in to Blackboard or are having issues with your student email), contact the Division of IT Service Desk as soon as possible using either their Self-Service Portal, by phone 815-753-8100 or email There will a large increase in support needs the first week of classes, so you will get a quicker response if you contact them sooner instead of waiting.

Pay Attention

While it’s been already stated, it’s worth reiterating again how important it is for you to pay attention to the communications from the university and your professors. Clean out your email inbox of old emails that you no longer need so that it’s easier for you see new emails that you receive. Check your email daily and pay close attention to the emails you receive from your professors, advisors and university officials.

If you have any issues accessing your email, please contact the Division of IT Service Desk using either their Self-Service Portal, by phone 815-753-8100 or email

Plan Your Time

The start of the semester is a great opportunity to take a fresh look at your current approach to using calendars and planners to help you plan your time and make some adjustments if needed.

Start with noting the major dates for the semester. You can download this semester-at-a-glance calendar to see the entire spring semester calendar on a single page, when classes begin, when spring break is, and when final exams will be held. These are important dates you want to make note of on your calendar.

Find a personal calendar solution that will work for you. This could be either a paper calendar, using an electronic document, or calendar app. Having some approach for keeping track in a visual way of your upcoming semester will help you stay on track and not miss class meetings or deadlines. The benefit of using a calendar app like Outlook is that it can synch with your phone and computer and you can also import your course calendars from Blackboard.

Plan your schedule for the first week of classes. Using available calendars and planners, begin by looking at the spring semester-at-a-glance calendar and then zoom in on the first week of the semester. Using a weekly planner or other tool of your choosing, sketch out when your classes will be meeting synchronously as well as your other commitments, work, meals, etc. After the first week of the semester, review how you actually spent your time and you can then adjust your schedule as needed. You can then look ahead to planning out the rest of your calendar for the remainder of the semester


The first week is as important as any time of the semester for you to actively participate. Just because you won’t be meeting in person doesn’t meet you aren’t able to engage with your professors and classmates. Be intentional about finding ways to actively participate in the online learning activities and class meetings. Here are some simple ways you can do so:

Respond to your professor. When you receive an email from your professor with information about the start of the semester, it’s a good idea to send a quick response back to your professor to confirm that you received the message. At that time you can also ask any follow-up questions that you might have.

Add a photo to your Blackboard Profile. Adding a photo to your Blackboard profile is easy and helps your professor and classmates be able to put a face with your name throughout the online course. You can likewise add your photo to Collaborate, Teams, or Zoom so that your photo also is displayed in any virtual class sessions when you don’t have your video camera enabled.

Show up to synchronous online class meetings. Make sure you are on time for class, and if possible, even arrive a few minutes early to the online session so you can make sure your technology is working properly and you can begin connecting with your classmates and professor. Be ready to be on camera: dress appropriately and find a location with good lighting, minimal distractions in the background, and where you can sit upright (such as a table and chair). 

Participate in Blackboard activities and synchronous class meetings. Each of your classes will likely have some sort of online icebreaker, discussion or other getting-to-know-you activity the first week of the class. Don’t ignore these! Rather, participate in the activities, ask questions, and fully engage. You’ll often be able to use photos, audio or video, so have fun and be creative!

Plug-In to Campus Supports

Take advantage of academic and personal supports. While classes may be remotely online, remember that the campus is still open and all campus supports and offices are available to you. In the left-hand navigation of Blackboard, look for the Assist section. This will connect you with information on most student support offices. In particular, you may want to take advantage of:

Contact the Disability Resource Center for support. If you need accommodations to be successful in your courses, please contact the Disability Resource Center as soon as possible. The DRC coordinates accommodations for students with disabilities. It is located in the Campus Life Building in Room 180 and can be reached at 815-753-1303 or

Get technical help. If you need technical assistance, you can get help by contacting the Division of IT Service Desk using either their Self-Service Portal, by phone 815-753-8100 or email


And finally remember, Huskies never quit! You’ve faced and overcome challenges before and you can do so again. You have a large community of fellow Huskies who believe in you and are committed to your success. You CAN do this!

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