5 tips for students taking an online course this summer

Posted on: May 22, 2014 | By: Casey Brown | Filed under: Tech Tips, Online Instruction, Teaching & Learning

4361935768_34e2072f39Are you taking an online course this summer? If this is your first time taking a college-level online course, you may not know what to expect. There are some obvious and some not-so-obvious ways it differs from your traditional face-to-face class. To help with the transition, Elon students and alumni offer their advice on how to effectively take a class online.

1. Know your professor

The structure of an online class sometimes makes the professor seem relatively invisible. Some will post lectures via Word documents, most questions have to be handled via e-mail, and you may never see who exactly teaches you. For these reasons, Junior Shannon Temlak encourages students to reach out to their online professor while on campus to establish a relationship early.

“If I wanted my professor to explain any concepts in her own words, I needed to take initiative and contact her via e-mail,” Temlak said. “I suggest that students meet with their professors before leaving campus for the summer (even if it is just to introduce themselves). Meeting professors beforehand may make students feel more comfortable with reaching out to that professor during the summer to ask for help or clarification.”

If meeting in person is no longer an option, ask to Skype or just send an e-mail to ask questions, so you can establish a rapport with your professor. The more comfortable you are from the beginning, the easier it will be to reach out to your professor when you need him or her. 

2. Know your syllabus

The syllabus are an important part of any class, but at least in a physical classroom, your professor can reiterate homework and due dates. With online courses, your syllabus becomes your only resource for the timeline of assignments.

Senior Caroline Klidonas urges students to become very familiar with their summer syllabi, so they can stay ahead in their summer coursework.

“They move at a quick pace, so be sure you’re on top of your due dates,” Klidonas said. “Never physically meeting for class can make assignments feel as if they sneak up on you.”

Elon alumni Glynis Smith said that using the syllabus was crucial to her summer learning experience, as she used it to get ahead during her busy summer weeks.

“I would go ahead and write posts ahead of time in a Word document, so I could just copy, paste and post when they were due,” Smith said. “Summer classes online are comparatively easier as long as you remember to do the work and pay attention to it.”

3. Treat it like a regular class

Without a physical classroom to go to or a teacher at the front to hold you accountable, it is sometimes hard to treat online courses as one you take during the school year. But junior Patrick Dudiak suggests taking the initiative to create your own classroom environment to keep you focused.

“Set a time and place to go, sit down, study and go through the material as well as take tests,” Dudiak said. “The more mentally you’re in class mode, the more successful you’ll be. The second you think of it as online, you tend to take your foot off the gas a bit.

The best way to create a classroom environment at home is to schedule a regular time to work, and clear a space you can use specifically for learning. When it’s your “school” time, clear your environment from distractions by using time management apps and asking your family and friends to respect that time. The more authentic an environment you create, the better it will be for learning.

MORE: Need a way to stay focused in your online courses this summer? Check out these time management apps.

4. Expect virtual complications

With an online course, you need to be especially careful with Internet connections and uploading, so all your work ends up in the right places. Klidonas suggests being conscious of what files you’re sharing and when, especially with the bigger assignments.

“For big projects, be sure you do something in a medium with file size that will be easy to upload and share electronically,” Klidonas said.

Along these lines, you should always budget time for complications when you’re turning in an assignment, because you’ll never know how long something will take to upload. Also, make sure you work in places with strong Internet connections to avoid risking work that doesn’t save or doesn’t submit properly.

5. Understand yourself as the student

Online courses highly depend on your ability to learn and teach yourself outside the classroom dynamic. You are responsible for reading the notes, completing the assignments, and taking the tests. You know what learning strategies work best for you, so you need to apply those to your online course to be effective.

If you work better in the morning, set aside time to work then. If you have a summer job, do more work on your off days, so you don’t forget to submit an assignment after a long shift. Plan ahead for weekend outings or family vacations. It may take a few days to find your style, but in the end, it’s up to you to make the time to be an effective online student.

What tips do you have for taking an online course? Let us know in the comments below.

Image via Flickr user LaMenta3 / CC BY-SA 2.0

Casey Brown

Casey Brown is the Writing Intern for Technology with Elon University's Teaching and Learning Technologies Department.

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