Everyone has a stigma that online courses are very difficult and people are warned to stay away from them, especially when you are a freshman. This idea makes sense because when you have an online course, there is limited contact with the instructor. This means that there are fewer reminders of when tests and quizzes are approaching as well as not having face-to-face contact to ask questions. It is inconvenient to meet your instructors in person. I have been in an online class every semester since I have been in college and I have learned a few things since I have been in them. Here is simple, helpful a list of things that you should prepare for and know if you are currently in an online course or thinking about taking one while you are in college!
1. Read your syllabus
Unlike standard courses offered at the U of A, there is usually no designated and beloved syllabus day in an online course. A good rule of thumb when you decide to take one, check to see if the D2L course page is up and if the syllabus is uploaded. Before the start date of the course, make sure you read it because there can be times that something will be due the first week you start. It is a good idea to write all of the dates down in a physical or an online planner/calendar so you can refer back to when tests and assignments are due. You can also plan out a specific timeframe during the week that you dedicate time to your online course. Even though you do not meet in person, you still need to dedicate around the same time you would to a class that you meet in person for.
2. Know how to use D2L and check it regularly
D2L is your classroom. Make sure that before you decide to take an online course, you are familiar with D2L. Don’t be embarrassed if you have to look at the D2L tutorials because you need to be an expert on navigating D2L. UITS has a fantastic tutorial for D2L that is easy to understand and I have linked it here. You should know how to add/reply/delete a discussion post, upload a big and small file, as well as know how to take a quiz. This may seem simple enough, but if for some reason you are short on time, you need to know how to do these tasks quickly.
Another thing that you need to know about D2L is that the syllabus is always subject to change. The professor may change a deadline and rather updating the syllabus, they may post it in the news section or content section. Know where to locate these objects when you review D2L and check it daily. When I have been in online courses, I make a habit to check it once or twice every day so I know what is going on and if anything has changed.
3. Do NOT procrastinate
It is very easy to forget about your online classes especially if you have many in-person classes. Unlike classes that meet in person, you usually do not have lectures and you have to rely on a lot of readings. Don’t wait to buy the book or to start reading your online coursework because you will fall behind. If the class is exam-based or essay-based, all of the material you will need to know is in those readings. If you wait until the last minute to read, you will scramble to get your essay done with little insight and it could result in a bad grade. If you fall behind in an online class, it is very hard to get caught up because the material is very dense and you have to rely on yourself to get it done on time.
Another thing that you should keep in mind when taking online classes is that technology is not always reliable. There are always random, unannounced updates on D2L that make it so you are not able to access your course. With this in mind, it is always good to give yourself at least 5 hours ahead of when a discussion post, a quiz/exam, or a dropbox closes just in case something goes wrong with D2L or your internet access. This also gives you more opportunity to email your professor with questions. The more time you give yourself to turn in an assignment, the longer you have time to fix a problem if (and, as is the case with technology, when) it arises.
4. Screenshot! Screenshot! Screenshot!
If you run into any problems, especially in a quiz or exam, take screenshots of what is happening on your screen. These screenshots are not only great to send as you look for support, but also you can send them to your instructor. In the past, in one of my classes, all of the exams were online. My instructor always told us if D2L acts weird to send in screenshots and depending on the issue, she would be able to reopen your exam to fix it. This gave her validation that something did actually go wrong because we had physical proof rather than just sending an email explaining what happened.
5. Be proactive
In an online course, you do not have the luxury to get the number of the person who is sitting next to you just in case you miss a class or if you have questions on your assignments. You also are not able to get questions answered from your instructors immediately. You have to be proactive. Reach out to your professors by sending an email or possibly visiting office hours if they have any. I have noticed that online professors are very quick to get back to you within a few hours or the same day that you asked your questions, so take advantage of it. Professors want you to succeed in their classes so ask specific, clear questions.
Another way to make sure your questions are answered or if you need help, there is a class list that visible on D2L. This gives you contact to other students that are enrolled in your class. With this, you could possibly set up study groups or bounce ideas off of one another. When I took an online fashion course, we were assigned groups and we always would ask each other questions about assignments. They were always very helpful and we all did very well in the class.
I hope that you take these tips with you as you go along in college. I remember when I was going to college, I didn’t think that I would ever have to take an online class. When I had to for a required class in my major, I second guessed it especially when UAccess asked me, “Are you ready for online learning”? I was unsure if I could handle it, but now looking at online classes, I love taking them. I can get ahead of the class, do it when I have time, as well as do my readings wherever I want. It’s nice having freedom without going to a specific class at a certain time. The only thing that you need to keep in mind is with freedom comes responsibility, but it is definitely worth it in the end!