The option to take college classes online is like the call of the mythological Sirens, who lured unwitting sailors to their deaths by singing so enticingly that the men would jump into the sea and drown. E-learning is known for its attractive offers, such as “take classes in your pajamas,” “you can sign in anytime from any place with Internet access,” and “designed to fit your schedule.” Unfortunately, this can result in a high failure rate among students.
If you want to be successful, prepare yourself as heroically as the ancient hero Odysseus did before sailing by the Sirens. He had his men tie him to the ship’s mast and stuffed his ears with wax; you can take a more pleasant approach to get ready for e-learning.
Here are 7 steps you must take before enrolling in virtual education:
If you were going to buy a car, wouldn’t you test drive it first? Wouldn’t you want to get to know its features, how well it performed, and whether or not it would fit in with your needs and lifestyle? Wouldn’t you want to make sure that your money is well spent?
The decision to take classes online should be approached with equal caution, especially if you’re already feeling a bit nervous about e-learning. Consider taking a course for a spin first. There are some sites, such as TestDriveCollege.com that will allow you to take a course for free to see if virtual education is for you. There is no cost, and you may even earn some college credit to start you on your journey.
Similarly, check with the schools that interest you to see if they have a similar program. They may offer a workshop designed to familiarize you with how their online courses are set up, and these may include tips on how to be successful. These are typically free, so you have nothing to lose and potentially quite a bit to gain.
Furthermore, be sure to test your equipment. Find out what hardware, software, and other technology you will need. Most colleges and universities publish a list online. This list from Devry University provides a good overview of what you will need. You may even be able to log into an area of the university’s website and run a systems check.
Also, be sure you have excellent high-speed Internet service and that all of this is available in your home on a daily basis. Although the computers of friends, family, employers, and public places can be excellent for backup in case your computer crashes or the Internet goes out at your house, they should not be your primary method of accessing your online classes. Friends may not be home at the time you need to use their computer, and your employer may not be supportive of your using their technology and Internet on company time.
Explore the LMS
Once you have access to your virtual class (es), explore them. Take the time to go through the course Learning Management System (LMS), click each and every link to see where they take you, and get comfortable navigating through the class. You may even find some tutorials that you can take like the one below.
Even if you feel comfortable with the layout of the course, take the time to explore. There may be an option that you are not aware of that could come in handy at some point during the class.
Learn about Resources
Similarly, even before your class starts, find out what resources are available to assist you with learning. Many colleges have academic resource or tutoring centers like this one at Lansing Community College:
Note that you can often receive assistance in person or online. You should also set up some appointments in advance because centers tend to book quickly around the time major projects are due in classes.
Also, check for technical assistance that may be provided, disability services, military student assistance, and other such support depending on your personal needs. Knowing what’s available before you begin can save you a lot of frustration later, and this will help you succeed.
Online classes require students to perform different tasks. You will most likely need to know how to:
• Use email and attach documents.
• Post to a discussion board and reply to other students.
• Submit assignments to a dropbox and/or upload them to a site.
• Search an electronic database in an online library.
• Sign-in to an online classroom, and possibly how to use a microphone and webcam to communicate.
• Type inside a chat or instant message window while following a conversation.
It doesn’t hurt to practice some of these tasks either in the test drive class, the orientation to e-learning workshop that your school provides, or even in the actual course itself. For example, try sending your instructor an introductory email just to say hello and adding a practice attachment before a class begins. Practice uploading a photo, video, or document to a social media site (e.g., Facebook or YouTube). Take a face-to-face or online tour of the college library and practice searching some of its databases.
The goal is to make each one of these activities and processes as natural for you as possible.
One area many students neglect is reading through the course site and materials, especially the syllabus. Arapahoe Community College offers a whole list of sample syllabi , and a quick look through them will show you some of the valuable information included. Pay particular attention to directions, rubrics that show how assignments will be evaluated, and when large projects are due so you can plan your time. It’s also helpful to get a jump start on any reading assignments that cover the course material. Use good reading comprehension strategies to help ensure you will remember important information.
Set Up Your Work Site
Lastly, set up a worksite. Think of your education as a job. Set up a desk or table with your computer, printer, and any other needed equipment and supplies at hand. If you can do this in a space that only you will use or at least have the option of hiding or locking away your materials so they’re out of the reach of family members, that’s usually helpful. Set up a password for your computer access to help protect your online documents, and be sure to have a means of backing up your work.
Also, don’t overlook the importance of jotting down notes and printing out important information. For instance, the syllabus contains your instructor’s contact information and possibly other important numbers, such as free tech support. Having these printed out can be helpful for emergency situations, such as a power outage. I would suggest putting important documents, such as the syllabus either in a three-ringed binder or posting them on a bulletin board near your work station. Use the course calendar as a checklist so you can mark off assignments as they come due and you complete them.
In general, keep in mind that although it may feel at times like e-learning is a Siren, trying to pull you under, there is a lot of assistance available. Get prepared using the steps described above, and seek out the assistance of your college’s resources. Starting this prior to the start of your class(es) will do much to increase your odds of success.
If you have been a successful online student, please feel free to add some additional tips in the “comments” area below.
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