Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Starting Online Courses for Spring 2012?

This information was previously posted on this blog but is still pertinent for those students taking online classes in the Spring 2012 semester. The seven factors below are some of the considerations you may want to keep in mind as you take online classes.

1. Time Management
This is very important in online courses; be sure to download the course calendar and keep it near your computer. Keep "to-do" lists and take advantage of any calendar and alarm functions on your phone or computer. Take some time to develop a system. Students tend to take online classes because they want to take advantage of the flexibility it gives their schedule.

2. Academic Rigor
Often, students new to online classes expect them to be easier some how. Classes online are just as academically rigorous as face-to-face. Online classes require the same amount of effort as traditional courses; the convenience is that you can select (to an extent) when you show up in the course environment. They may require a little more for some students as they learn the technology. Online courses can rely heavily on reading assignments, written lecture, and written communication in groups. If you learn best by reading, then you have an advantage in an online environment.

3. Communication Skills
Online classes are primarily text-based environments. Communicating online lacks the visual cues we are all use to in conversations; be specific when you ask questions and don't assume that someone else can tell when you are joking. Remember to take a few moments to check spelling and grammar, as this it will affect the impression you create with your peers and instructor.

4. Technology Skills
You do not have to be an expert in technology to be successful in an online class. You should be comfortable navigating the internet, using email, and attaching documents to email. Technology skills are not a barrier to your success: just as you learned how to be a face-to-face student, you can learn to be an online student. Be sure to check out the minimum technology requirements recommended by your school's distance education department. As you take online classes you will become more comfortable with online technology. You can't "break" anything in your online class. Go ahead and click all the buttons and get use to the environment. Take the time to find out what kind of tech support is available to you and keep that information handy.

5. Online Learning is a Social Environment
Participate in your class. Online learning is about connections you will make with your instructor, your fellow students and the course content. Take some time to read about your instructor in the faculty area, and be sure to ask for a face-to-face office hour if you feel you aren't getting the information you need in the online environment. Your instructor wants you to do well, and will be happy to give you the extra contact you need if you let him/her know -- just because you can't "see" your instructor doesn't mean they aren't available to you. Be sure to give some extra effort to all the group activities, discussion forums, or social lounges offered in the course.

6. Critical Thinking Skills
The same kind of critical thinking skills that are required in paper-based research is required online. You will need to remember that not all sources on the internet are equal as far as academic credibility is concerned. The same citation questions for paper-based research apply online: what are the author's credentials? What is the author's purpose in writing? Is the author an expert in his or her field? Remember that as an online student, you have access to a librarian for guidance by phone or email. Consult your college webpage for the reference librarian's contact information. Your college may even have a librarian that specializes in online learning or internet research.

7. Motivation
The same kinds of habits that you developed to be a successful face-to-face student are also required in online learning. Online learning requires a little more discipline. They tend not to be self-paced classes and participation can be a major factor in your success as an online student. As an online student, you will need to check in with your class at least three times a week and take time to do your assignments completely and thoughtfully. Ask questions if you do not understand an assignment. Go into the discussion forums and see if there are students forming study groups (or form one yourself). Remind yourself why you are taking classes online and keep fixed on your goals.

By keeping in mind these seven factors, any student can successfully take online courses.

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