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Ten tech skills every college student needs for virtual classes

Ten essential technology skills that every student needs for taking virtual online and hybrid classes in college.

Recently, I received a message from a Teacher of the Visually Impaired asking about the most common tech skills for virtual classes that I use in college, as they were helping to prepare their students for taking online and hybrid classes in college by giving them the opportunity to practice skills in high school. I thought that was an awesome question, as I have written in the past about must-have tech skills for college students living on campus, but hadn’t written a post about the skills I use specifically in virtual classes. Here are my picks for ten tech skills every college student needs for virtual classes, and how I use them in my online courses.

How to use Microsoft Office/Google GSuite

A majority of my online lectures and assignments require students to have access to Microsoft Office or Google GSuite for browsing through lecture slides, typing notes/assignments, or modifying note templates and spreadsheets. For this reason, it’s important that students feel comfortable using Microsoft Office or Google GSuite applications with assistive technology, and that they know how to view and edit documents as well. Since my university gives students a free Office 365 subscription, my professors request that students complete assignments using Microsoft Office applications whenever possible, but most professors don’t care which platform a student uses to complete their assignments, as long as the assignments are completed correctly.

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Run effective web searches for information

One of the skills that have helped me tremendously with being able to learn the material in my virtual classes is knowing how to run effective web searches for information. I have an entire post dedicated to this topic as part of my Writing Success series, but I’ve also used these tools for things outside of writing papers such as finding study guides and flashcard sets on Quizlet, troubleshooting code errors, getting help with math and science problems, and so much more.

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Convert documents into multiple different formats

My vision fluctuates throughout the day due to factors such as fatigue, lighting, pain, and how well I can focus my eyes at a given point. Since my vision doesn’t stay the same, neither does the way I receive accessible materials- sometimes I read documents with large print, other times I use a program to help make reading easier, and other times I use audio to get information. Knowing how to convert assignments and documents into multiple different formats has helped me tremendously with being able to access information however I want.

Starting this semester, the documents for my online classes in Blackboard contain an option to download the documents in other accessible formats, including HTML, EPUB, audio, BeeLine Reader, and even refreshable Braille! While these formats don’t always look 100% perfect, it’s now easier than ever for me to get materials how I want them, or to get them in multiple formats.

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Access live and pre-recorded video content

Since all of my lectures are posted online, it’s important to know how to access live and pre-recorded video content so I don’t miss out on important information or hints on how to do assignments. This includes being able to join and participate in online meetings on multiple different video platforms, knowing how to find videos for my classes, and being able to navigate common streaming websites with assistive technology. Another thing that helps is sharing with my professors how they can create content that is inclusive of audiences with visual impairments- I have an entire post on creating inclusive lectures linked below.

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Access textbooks and other content digitally

Speaking of lectures, it’s also important to ensure that students know how to access their online textbooks and other digital assignments on other platforms, as many classes give out assignments that rely on these things. For textbooks that are not available in an online/accessible format, I recommend reaching out to Disability Services or the Assistive Technology office to request textbook materials in whatever file format is needed- this may take a few weeks, depending on what book is being requested and if it is in their system.

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Use browser extensions to maximize productivity

I love using web browser extensions to maximize productivity and make my online classes easier to access. Simple things like blue light filters, simplified reading displays, and shortcuts to other applications can make a big difference in how students are able to access information for long periods of time. I have an entire post linked below on my favorite extensions for virtual learning, and highly recommend all of them!

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How to write emails and messages

Many of the online classes I’ve taken have featured professors that were not on campus, or I took classes online while I was several hours away from campus. For this reason, knowing how to compose emails and messages that are professional and concise is critical, as I can’t always drop by their office or talk to them after class if there is a problem. A lot of my professors have strict requirements on how students need to communicate with them as well, such as what email to use and specific subject lines so that things are easier to find. By knowing how to write emails and messages, students can ensure that they are able to have their accommodations followed and deal with any questions or concerns that come up during the semester or school year.

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Organize files in a way that makes sense

One of the things that has helped me to keep track of assignments and avoid uploading the wrong file is having my files organized in a way that makes sense to me. This includes having folders/sub-folders for each of my classes, specific naming conventions, and keeping resources in a place where I can easily find them. It helps save a lot of time for when I go to upload assignments, and I can easily reference previous assignments or classes as needed.

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How to enable built-in accessibility features

My computer, iPad, and Android phone all have awesome built-in accessibility features that can help me with accessing my virtual classes. Sometimes, I use all three of my devices at once so that I can get the best of all of the features- I’ll have code magnified on my computer screen, documentation open in large print on my iPad, and a visual assistance app on my phone in case I need to borrow a pair of eyes or use an app like Lookout to see what is happening on the screen. It helps to know how to make each device accessible for low vision/blind users, and how these features can be beneficial for the user.

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Use a virtual planner or calendar for deadlines

It’s easy to get confused over which assignment is due when, especially when taking multiple classes that have similar topics- for example, my two Python classes this semester. I have found that adding information on due dates and assignments to virtual planner or calendar apps is invaluable for ensuring that I have all of my assignments turned in on time, and for making sure I didn’t get confused and think my project was due a week earlier than it actually was- or a week later!

Summary of ten tech skills every college student needs for virtual classes

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,

Updated August 2023; original post published September 2020

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