15 Tips on How to Survive an Online Class

Students occasionally have difficulty adjusting to online formats, especially if they are accustomed to being in a classroom with ‘real’ people and a ‘real’ instructor. When instructors design online classes, we work under mandates to align them as closely as possible to their on-ground counterparts as far as material covered. Although this is true, the dissonance arises because students may feel alone, hanging on the periphery of the educational arena, attached only by a rectangular screen.

It doesn’t have to be that way, however. Online is not an abyss; it is merely a new way of communicating. The majority of online courses provides a venue for discussion and encourages interaction with your instructor and your classmates, ‘bonding’ if you will. In the best online classes, students ‘get it’ and sustain productive dialogue. Thus, the primary difference between online and on-ground courses lies with you and has to do with self-motivation, self-discipline, time management, and sticktuitiveness, all qualities that will put you ahead, not only in academia but also in the world of work.

Whether you are a first timer or a seasoned pro in the virtual world, there follows a list of suggestions that can aid your online success.

  1. Download and read the syllabus. Be aware of when modules or discussion boards will change or close.
  2. Transfer all due dates to a planner or calendar. Monthly ones work best because they allow you to see ‘what’s ahead.’
  3. Avoid procrastination! Just because there are ending due dates does not mean you should put off the assignment. In an on ground class, there are constant reminders; in an online class, these may not be as evident.
  4. Check email at least daily. Most online instructors use this form of communication and many will send periodic reminders of due dates along with other information. [Email will go to your university address].
  5. Frequently, check the course home page for announcements.
  6. Check the To Do or Assignment List in each module. They will clearly spell out the expectations for the week or partial week of the course.
  7. Do NOT be afraid to contact your instructor. If you have a question, chances are good others do as well.
  8. Note the instructor’s posted response time on the syllabus. If you do not receive an answer within that specified period, send another email. Technology is miraculous but, occasionally, things do fall into a virtual black hole.
  9. On the point above … your classmates may be clever and bright and terribly together but asking them questions about assignments is often less informative than asking the instructor.
  10. A little known fact … your instructor can monitor your time on the computer. If an accrediting board or board of regents mandates x number of contact hours per course [in Tennessee, it is 45 for a three hour credit class] and your report shows that you have been online for four hours, your grade may reflect that deficit even if you have submitted all the academic work. Even downloading or printing the modules takes a certain amount of time, which will show in your report.
  11. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that you enrolled in the class. That may sound odd but it happens … if you have been absent in an on-ground class, your instructor may say ‘welcome back’ or ask where you’ve been or remind you that attendance is important. In an online class, the instructor may send an inquiry by email but, without a response, we may assume you have dropped or are merely disinterested.
  12. Please adhere to correct formatting on your papers … instructors appreciate a readable 12-pt font and double spacing. Put your name on everything and use it in your document tags [e.g., Save As … Paper 2 Your Name]
  13. Please adhere to the rules of grammar and spelling [even in your discussion board postings and responses].
  14. Learn and use APA documentation … if you have doubts, purchase the book, access http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/, or ask your instructor. [Important: If you cannot write a paragraph explaining the difference between plagiarism and paraphrasing, please contact your instructor before submitting work].
  15. Save your documents in an accessible format, preferably .doc or .docx … do not submit papers marked “Read Only,” which prohibits corrections.

To review: show up, communicate, discuss, dissect, and analyze. Don’t procrastinate.

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