Academic Advice For Online Class Success
January 20, 2014

Academic Advice For Online Class Success

More and more, we see a trend in higher education toward online classes. Now, don’t worry. Students still adore face-to-face traditional classes, but many students are also venturing into the virtual classroom. Since I teach online classes as well as traditional on-campus ones, I figured perhaps a nice little guide to success in online classes would be helpful for the beginning of the semester. A little over a year ago, I wrote about online classes in general, but here I want to include some tips for having a fruitful learning experience in online classes.

Before starting the advice, though, I want to say one thing: make sure you can learn in an online environment. Primarily, online classes work well for visual learners and for those who do not need face-to-face, personal interaction to learn. To figure out one’s learning style, check out this website.

The first bit of advice to know is that online classes are a lot of work. They tend to demand more work from both professor and student. Because the communication is all done via the web, and primarily through email, this requires more time. Heck, even grading takes longer for online essays. The best advice I have for anyone in an online class is to set up a regular schedule to complete work. For me, I set aside at least 30 minutes a day to check my online class, answer questions on the message boards, and respond to emails. Right now, I actually set aside one hour on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and a half hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Now, I check my email regularly, so I just respond to those as they come, but as for course work, instruction, and grading, I use the 30 minutes to an hour a day for that.

Students should also do this. The thing about online classes is that students sort of teach themselves. The professor puts up the assignments, readings, lectures, and activities, and students must navigate those on their own. They must also make sure to keep track of when assignments and activities are due. Sure, profs may send email reminders or post announcements, but the crux of the responsibility rests on the students’ shoulders. This is why it is so important that students regularly check their online classes AND keep a specific schedule of when assignments are due.

I suggest keeping a planner or calendar and listing assignments and due dates. Whether a student does this in print or via an electronic planner, the student must remember to check and complete assignments.

Additionally, professors may send out additional information about course materials or assignments, so checking the class daily will help ensure that students succeed. No matter how much I plan a unit out, invariably at least once a week or so, I will have to add some information or an assignment or activity otherwise. This is not because I enjoy complicating lives; it is simply a matter of learning.

Next, I would suggest that students meet with their online instructors face-to-face at least once. This will help the student feel more connected and will help the professor to really know her students. Furthermore, I suggest meeting with a prof anytime the student struggles. This can be done face-to-face, through email, or even through Skype or some other online communication tool. Meeting with professors helps to give the class a more human touch.

Moreover, it helps if students connect with tutors on campus or online. This can really make an online learning experience pop even more. Peer tutors sometimes say what profs say in a way that students better understand.

The best advice I have for online students (and really students in general) is communication. Online students should communicate their needs with professors. If a student doesn’t understand an assignment, then email, call, stop by the prof’s office during her office hours, or set up an appointment otherwise, and talk to the prof. If a student has questions or concerns, communicate these with the professor. If a student needs help, let the prof know. We can’t help if we don’t know students are struggling or just in need of a bit of guidance.

Communication is key to success in online courses especially. Because the instruction is done through a course management system (as is my case) or the internet otherwise, communication between professor and student must be open and willing. I can’t read my students’ minds, so I don’t know when they struggle, thus they must take the initiative to contact me and seek help.

Really, all of this boils down to simply being responsible for our educations and taking control. We must be organized. We must communicate. We must meet when we need it, and we must seek help in all venues. Online classes can be incredible learning experiences, but we must be committed to them.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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