Dear Ally,

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Thrive in the On-line Environment

Dear Ally,

You’re about to take your first on-line class! I think most students expect on-line classes  to be easier than the face-to-face version. While taking a class on-line offers flexibility, it requires self-discipline and motivation and involves a significant amount of reading and writing. Depending on how the coursework is structured, the door could be open for some serious procrastination. Assignment deadlines could be once a week or even further spread apart or the class could require small daily tasks. Either way, you should be prepared to spend 9-12 hours a week on this course or even more if it’s an accelerated course.

Let’s talk about technology requirements. You’ll need the following for the average on-line class:

  • Reliable, high speed internet connection. You’ll likely be watching videos and downloading and uploading large files, so the faster your connection, the better.
  • Microphone/ speakers or headset. You’ll need to be able to hear the videos well and you may also have to either record and upload your own videos or live chat.
  • Webcam. Useful for live chat sessions/ on-line office hours and could be required if your class has on-line exams where you must record yourself taking them to ensure academic integrity.
  • Printer/scanner/smartphone. If you’ll also be on campus for other courses, a printer is not necessary, but is convenient. Depending on the course, a scanner might be useful, but most smartphones have nearly equivalent capabilities these days. My face-to-face organic chemistry students often take pictures of their homework or their computer screens to send to me with questions when they get stuck.
  • Software. You’ll need all the same programs you use in a face-to-face class: Microsoft Office, Adobe Reader, Windows Media Player, etc. Check the syllabus to see if the course requires anything out of the ordinary.

Now let’s talk about the typical computer skills needed…

  • Course content navigation. Be sure you know how the course content is organized – is it chronological (this is best practice, but not always the case) or is it set up so that like items are in folders together? Most on-line instructors will have either a course orientation video or at least a welcome message that explains how to get around the course.
  • File transfer. If you’ve never electronically submitted an assignment to an instructor, you should familiarize yourself with attaching files to an e-mail message (and how to open an attachment) and/or how to upload a file to a dropbox. For large files, you may also need to know how to compress (zip) them.
  • Discussion board posts. Most on-line classes have some kind of discussion board on which you need to post and reply to posts. Be sure you understand the different ways the posts can be displayed or organized and how to tell the difference between a post you’ve read and a new post (and perhaps how to mark as unread if you’ve read it, but want to be reminded to respond).
  • Manage notifications. As soon as I submit grades to the on-line grade book, my students know it because they receive a notification. Your on-line learning management system should have settings where you can choose to receive notifications when your instructor submits a new grade, a new news item/ announcement, or a new discussion board topic. Some learning management systems have a corresponding app for mobile devices so that notifications appear as a banner on your phone or other device. This is extremely convenient and can help you keep track of course activity without having to log on constantly.

All of the tips I’ve mentioned in past posts about making a schedule, putting due dates in your planner/calendar, and staying organized will become crucial for success in an on-line class. You won’t be in the class to receive reminders about what’s going on or when assignments or exams are going to be. You’ll need to become an independent learner.

The most important aspect of on-line teaching and learning is communication. Pay close attention to what the syllabus says about the best way to contact the instructor and what method will be used to send information and instructions to the class. Be sure to check your school e-mail address and log into the course on at least a daily basis. All communication with your instructor and your classmates should be carried out in complete sentences using proper grammar.

It’s spring break week here, so I get a chance to get caught up on my class and am hoping to post everything my students will need for the rest of the semester before the weather gets nice.

Good luck and hope you have a great week!

Aunt Sarah

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