Written by Dante Nichol
Online classes. Whether it’s out of convenience or necessity, chances are, you will be faced with taking them at some point in your college career. Maybe you’ve enrolled in one because all the on-campus classes were full, or maybe it just works best with your schedule. Either way, online classes allow students to pursue their education on their own time, wherever they are, as long as there’s an internet connection.
Online classes are a great alternative for students with career, medical, familial, or any other commitment restraining their enrollment in traditional on-campus classes. In fact, some schools even charge less for online courses.
But online courses aren’t all rainbows and financial grants.
They’re often time-consuming and require a lot of student interaction. It’s not uncommon for students to go into these classes expecting them to take just like their in-person classes, only on the computer. But, online classes are an entirely different beast and can be a bit of shock to the system for first-time students.
As a student who has transitioned from a traditional on-campus education to a full-time online student, I’ve learned how to adjust my academic habits and expectations to better suit my online courses.
I recommend any student beginning an online course to consider these tips before they’re too far into the semester.
PRINT YOUR ASSIGNMENTS CALENDAR
Most online learning environments have a calendar built into the system. The calendars mark the due dates of all of your assignments for the semester. While you should be able to access these calendars anytime throughout the semester in your school’s online learning environment, I recommend physically printing out these calendars and hanging them up somewhere at home.
When I first began taking online courses, I found myself rarely looking at my assignment calendars. I would work on my courses a single module at a time and had very few problems doing it this way. Until I ran into larger assignments that required more than a days work to complete. These larger assignments would blindside me. They forced me into a panic mode, resulting in mediocre work, which then resulted into mediocre grades.
Printing out your assignment calendars is a great way to force yourself to look at them every day, giving you a proper heads up for those larger assignments, and allowing yourself to plan accordingly.
GET OUT OF THE HOUSE
While being able to go to school in your underwear is arguably one of the biggest selling points of online school, I advise against it. Now, I’m not saying you need to put some pants on before you log on. I’m just saying you should probably get out of the house, which depending on where you live, may require you putting on some pants.
Why? Because your house is full of distractions. You wake up, log on to your school’s web environment, crack your knuckles, ready to begin your work for the day when suddenly your stomach starts grumbling. Better have some breakfast. You eat and get back to the computer, ready to work. But your stomach; it’s grumbling again. Better go use the restroom. And after the restroom you’re back again, ready to work for real this time. You begin your first assignment when all of a sudden your phone vibrates. It’s your friend, he tells you the new season of Big Mouth just dropped on Netflix. Well, why not a few episodes, you know, before you get too far into your school work?
Look, if you have an iron power of will, I support you. Do your classwork in your pajamas and enjoy your life. But, if you’re anything like me, get out of the house. Go to the library, a coffee shop, or anywhere else with public wifi. Find a place right for you and go there with purpose. Tell yourself you’re there to do homework and nothing else. Limit your distractions and hold yourself accountable.
WORK ON IT EVERY DAY
With online courses, no one checks in on you, making sure you do what you need to. You are responsible for what work you do and when. There’s no set class times, no in-class discussions, just due dates. Because of this, sitting quietly in the back of the classroom is no longer an option. Everyone has to participate in every class discussion, resulting in a lot more work for online students.
It’s easy to put off assignments until their due dates, saving all your work for the weekend. And I understand if your work schedule or some other commitment forces you to work like that, but with every class discussion being checked for and graded, it’s easy for your work to pile up. So if you can, work on something from each class every day, even if it’s just a little bit. It will keep your head above water and help you better retain the information.
CHECK YOUR SCHOOL EMAIL REGULARLY
When I was attending in-person classes, I checked my school email about once a week. Any email I hadn’t opened yet would almost always be discussed in the next class and I would receive the information that way.
Now this was clearly poor work ethic and ill-advised, even for tradition on-campus classes, but it is an especially bad idea for online classes. Almost all teacher-student interaction happens via email in online courses. Whether it’s on your school email or a messenger built into your school’s web environment. Class policies, assignment due dates or any other pertinent information regarding the course can change essentially any day your professor decides to change it. I’ve had late assignment policies change without me even knowing, next thing I know I’ve missed an entire assignment, thinking I could turn it in late. That doesn’t feel too good.
BE CORDIAL WHEN EMAILING YOUR PROFESSORS
Online course have a lot more students per class than most courses with physical class meetings. As a result, online-learning professors receive hundreds of emails a day from their students alone. That’s not even including all the emails they receive from other professors, their superiors, or whoever else may be trying to contact them. All these emails can cause delayed responses from professors. Some responses, depending on the class size, taking almost a week after the sending of the original email. Often times, when they do finally come, they are merely one or two sentences long.
As a student this can become incredibly frustrating and borderline insulting. You may feel behooved to send a second, snarky email demanding an answer to your first email or complaining about the lack of an answer their response turned out to be.
Resist that urge. Cordiality proves the most effective tactic when emailing a professor. When emailing, show as much appreciation for your professor as possible and an understanding of how many people they respond to every day. If a professor sees graciousness in your emails, they are likely to respond quicker. They may even be willing to help you out or cut you a break later on in the semester.
If a professor takes too long to respond, feel free to send a second email, but show concern only for your grade, not their absence of a response. If their response is still “lost in the mail,” try sending out an email to your classmates, seeing if any of them know the answer to your questions. Chances are somebody will have the answer to your question.
Online classes can be tough. They require a lot of interaction and a lot of self-discipline. It can sometimes be complicated to navigate the new responsibilities you have as a student. But as long as you stay up-to-date on class policies and don’t get too far behind, you should be fine.
Good luck, and enjoy the flexibility that is online learning!