In a couple weeks I’m starting English Composition 1 ( EN 101) at Grand Rapids Community College. Since I’m still figuring some stuff out in California I’m taking it online. I talked yesterday about a few tips on how to have a good semester if you’re new to college, so with my online class in mind I thought I’d share a few thoughts on how to do well in that kind of environment, too.
(Note: This advice is again primarily gleaned from my experience at the community college level. I’m sure online university courses (courses from an actual campus university) are very similar but I have not taken any of those. I do not know the expectations of purely online schools or accelerated degree programs. So bear in mind this is assuming the class you’re taking is a traditional semester-long course.)
1) Log in daily. In every class I’ve ever taken, attendance in the online class has been based on logging in a certain number of times per week. Just like in a regular class, you’re not going to learn anything unless you show up to class. It’s even more important when it comes to forum discussions. Most online classes I’ve taken at the college required at least a few replies each week, not only to the discussion topic but other classmates’ comments, as well. I was always one of the first on Sunday nights to knock out the majority of my work, but I would have to wait until later in the week to finish up because too many of the classmates waited until the last second to post their own stuff. Logging in every day will help make sure you at least see if other people have been posting so you don’t have to wait until the last second yourself. Which brings me to the second point…
2) Don’t wait until the last minute. You never know if you’re going to have technical issues or if your WiFi is going to crash on you. If your assignment is due late Saturday night and you’re waiting until Saturday afternoon to do it, what are you going to do if the school server goes down or someone crashes into a pole and you lose power at home for a while? More than likely campus will be closed, so even if the server does get up and running how are you going to get your assignment in? Some instructors are a bit more forgiving, but most have too much to do to give a rat’s ass why your paper was turned in two days after it was due. You need to plan ahead in case something goes wrong, and the best way to that is to make sure you don’t procrastinate.
3) Get to know the professor. If you’re taking one or two online classes alongside regular classes, take a little time to meet with your professors during office hours. It’s always good to put a face to a name, especially for those classes with zero in-class meetings. If you live two hours away and are only taking classes online, at least shoot out some emails. There’s only so much you can learn and say to an instructor in a discussion forum. Reaching out to them in your own not only shows initiative but that you actually care about your learning, and you never know when that might come back to help you in the future.
4) Don’t take an online class unless you know you can do it. This is not something to consider lightly. If you live in a place with shitty internet connection, don’t do it. If you have problems staying committed to things, don’t do it. If your life consists of work and taking care of kids by yourself, you probably won’t have the energy to tackle an online class. I can already feel the burnout from that situation. I’m not saying it’s not doable, but if any of these scenarios describe you you’re probably just better off taking the class online. Would save a little stress, I think. Or make taking the class that much harder. But environment aside, it takes far more commitment than most people realize to do well in an online college class. You don’t have professors or TA’s standing in front of you or around you to keep you in check. You’re too old for mommy and daddy to make sure you get online when you’re supposed to and do whatever it is you need to be doing. It’s all on you. Online classes can be an easier way to get shit done, but it can also backfire way too easy. They’re always more expensive than a traditional class and requires much more out of you than just going and sitting in a lecture for an hour or two. Your success depends entirely on you, even more than it would a regular course.
I was going to go for five bullet points like I normally do for this kind of post, but I rambled a bit in some of these so I’m going to leave it as is. Again, once I start taking my class on the 27th I might have more to add, but for now I think this is a good starting off post. If you have any friends or children or if you yourself am taking an online class for the first time pretty soon, read this and let me know what you think. Share it around. I’ve never taken an online class I haven’t excelled in.