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10 Tips to Avoid Sabotaging Your Academic Success

Posted on Monday December 3, 2012 by Michael Keathley

Last week I wrote about “How to Stand Out Favorably in Your Online Class,” (30 November, 2012) and explained ways that students may get noticed by their professors in a positive way, even in the virtual world.

Sometimes it is helpful to also look at such issues from the flip side. Too often as an online instructor and administrator, I have seen students exhibit some of the opposite characteristics, the ones that make them stand out negatively. The ones that cause them to damage their own academic progress. Although no one has shown all of these qualities, even displaying one of them on a single occasion can be detrimental to your education. My experience has also been that many do not realize the effects of these behaviors or understand that such actions are not acceptable.

In the hope that you will become more cognizant of your behavior and avoid any unpleasant outcomes, I share these ten tips to avoid sabotaging your own academic and career success.

What Not to Do
Most students do not deliberately set out to interfere with their own education. However, the stress of juggling higher education and the other responsibilities of adult life can cause emotions to get the better of reason. Individuals may lapse into the following common mistakes that should be avoided.

    1. Don’t show up late or skip class meetings or activities.

    There seems to be a misunderstanding about this among college students. I remember people telling me the great thing about college is that no one cares if you show up for class or not. Although I know most educators do care and do follow up with students who begin to be no-shows, even if they didn’t, is this good for your academic progress?

    In an online class, “attendance,” usually defined as accessing the course a certain number of days each week, is checked. Some online schools have systems that automatically withdraw students after as certain number of missed days or activities, for example. Furthermore, you will miss information in live virtual sessions, and you are still responsible for their content.

    Being absent does not dismiss your obligation to meet objectives or deadlines, and it will get noticed.

    2. Don’t share annoying background noise with the class if you are using a microphone or telephone to participate in a real-time course event.

    Be advised that some online course sites or online meeting rooms will clearly display whose microphone is on or who is speaking via telephone. Even if there is no identifying icon, it is typically not hard to figure out who is causing the distraction. Dogs barking, children crying, toilets flushing, potentially offensive music playing, and intimate conversations between you and a loved one have no place in a virtual classroom.

    3. Don’t distract a course meeting or discussion with off topic posts and comments.

    Whether a meeting is face-to-face or virtual, it is normal to show up a bit early to chat informally with your classmates. This is actually a good practice as it builds community, which has been shown to foster academic success. However, once the meeting starts, focus on the agenda not the chit-chat.

    4. Don’t be overly friendly or disrespectful to your professor and/or classmates.

    Within your online classes where most, if not all, communication will be done by typing in a variety of contexts (e.g., email), take extra care to be respectful of others. “Hey teach!” is no way to begin a message to your professor. Always maintain appropriate boundaries with informal and formal communication.

    5. Don’t ignore directions or assume they do not apply to you.

    Have you ever really paid attention to how many times and ways a professor will provide directions and reminders to students? In spite of this, some learners will ignore directions. A few will simply decide to complete the task in another way. It is vital to realize there is most likely a reason you are being asked to do something a certain way. By not following instructions, your progress may be compromised (e.g., missing key learning items).

    6. Don’t miss assignments; then demand that your “make-up work” be accepted after the deadline has passed.

    Remember that deadlines exist for a reason. Your professor, for instance, may be scaffolding assignments to make sure you progress a step at a time through the curriculum and learning process. Missing deadlines will set you back and possibly have rippling effects on those around you or on your grade.

    7. Don’t invalidate or negate the experiences or ideas shared by others.

    Like you, other students come to the postsecondary classroom and workplace with life experiences to share. These are no less valid than yours. Moreover, your professor brings experience as well as other academic and professional credentials to the classroom. Allow others to share these without trying to shut them down. Making comments, such as: “There’s that liberal agenda again,” or “I know more about this than all of you combined,” is not conducive to your academic success.

    8. Don’t try to take full credit for other student’s work, especially projects accomplished by collaboration as a team.

    This one is a classic bad move. A student may collaborate with other students in an online class assignment; then claim that he or she was solely responsible for its completion. The other students and the professor will know the truth, and no one will be happy about the attempt to highjack their efforts.

    9. Don’t blame others for your own shortcomings and mistakes.

    We are all human, and especially in the learning environment, mistakes are inevitable. In fact, as students, we can often turn failure into success. However, be careful not to lapse into blaming others for your shortcomings and mistakes. It is probably not your professor’s fault that you didn’t study for a final exam or if you failed to complete a project on time.

    10. Don’t threaten professors, classmates, or other university staff members to get what you believe you are entitled to have.

    If your late project is not accepted by a professor, do not lapse into a litany of threats about what you will do if an extension isn’t granted. Telling professors you will go to their supervisor and “have their job” or that you will “speak negatively to the media” about the university will not get you what you want.

In general, keep in mind that although you may feel you are more invisible to your professor in an online classroom than in the ground campus, face-to-face (F2F) context, the opposite is more the reality. Professors can easily see if you are taking part in discussions, accessing information, leaving your microphone on during synchronous meetings, spending time in the units, and engaging in other such expected activities.

Overall, it is in your best interest to avoid the above negative behaviors that will sabotage your academic and career success. Instead, focus clearly on the “ways to stand out favorably,” and you should do well.

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