Thinking about taking an online class? Wondering what to expect? Or maybe you’ve just started an online class this semester and are wondering how it’s going to go. Either way, here are some tips on making it a success.
What to expect:
There can be a lot of variation in how online courses are set up. But overall, Towson’s online classes are run through Blackboard and are set up to be interactive and engaging – rather than being given all the course materials to work with completely on your own, you’re guided throughout the semester by the instructor, with regular discussions and assignments, just as in an in-person class.
Blended courses (also known as hybrid courses) – these classes are a mix of face-to-face meetings and online instruction. What the exact balance will be and how the in-class time will be used varies widely. Some instructors use the face-to-face time to deliver a lecture or give an exam, while others prefer a flipped classroom, with preparation done outside of class for a face-to-face discussion or class activity.
Fully online – these classes require no in-person meetings. Most at Towson are asynchronous, meaning there are also no set times you need to be online for the class; you can go online to access posted materials whenever is convenient for you, as long as you meet the instructor’s deadlines for using and responding to course materials. Some instructors do use Skype or other real-time web conferencing, though, where students need to be online at certain times for class interactions.
You’ll find many strong opinions both for and against online learning, but there are some consistent pros and cons. Overall, people who love online classes will point out the advantages of the online format:
- Flexibility – online courses fit easily into a packed schedule of classes, work, and family, especially if there are few or no face-to-face meetings. Unless there are live web-conferencing hours, you can set your own schedule and “go to class” at 2 a.m. in your pajamas if you’re busy during the day.
- No commute! – for students living off campus, online can help save on time, gas, and parking challenges.
- Control – think of classes you’ve been in where the professor talks really fast and you struggle to keep up with your note-taking. In an online course, you can play recorded lectures at your own pace – pause, rewind, replay.
But despite all these pros, there are some cons to look out for. Knowing yourself and how you’d deal with some of these is a good place to start – try the self-assessment quiz Is Online Learning for Me?
Even if online doesn’t at first seem a natural fit for your style, though, many of what appear to be roadblocks to successful online learning can in fact be overcome. Consider these common pitfalls and strategies to avoid them:
- Issue: thinking online is less work than an in-person class and being caught off guard by the workload
- Solution: make sure you set aside at least 7-10 hours a week to work on your online class
- Issue: neglecting the class (in other words, forgetting you’re in it until right when something is due!)
- Solution: even if your instructor hasn’t specified times to be online, log into Blackboard at least a few times a week, if not daily, to keep on top of announcements and reminders about tasks and assignments. Keep in mind your instructor can see exactly when you’ve been on the course site as well as what materials you’ve used, and long absences might raise red flags.
- Issue: missing deadlines when you’re not in the classroom to be reminded
- Solution: check your TU email daily for any reminders your professor sends out. Also, without structured class time, you have to be even more independently organized than in a regular class, so program due dates and reminders into your phone or write into your planner.
- Issue: writing, writing, writing! Online classes are often require a lot of writing, relying on written communication, text-based discussion board posts, and essay exams, which may or may not be your strong suit.
- Solution: take advantage of the Writing Center on campus – they can help with all kinds of writing at any stage of the process. Also, increasingly, professors are making an effort to offer more kinds of interaction – video, audio, social media – so you may find there are more options for expression and communication. For example, the newly updated Blackboard platform allows for webcam recordings in place of text for discussion board posts, so ask your instructor if that’s an option if you’d prefer making a spoken comment!
- Issue: technical problems! Unfortunately, no matter how savvy you are with a computer, there will be times when technology is just not cooperative. And if you’re taking your test at 2 a.m., your professor is probably not available online to help troubleshoot!
- Solution: plan ahead. Expect that problems will occur and be prepared. For example, if you’re taking an online test, save everything outside of Blackboard as you work (like in a Word document) in case of a glitch. There’s nothing worse than clicking “submit” on your exam and getting an error message that it didn’t go through, leaving you to start over from scratch.
So whether you’re in an online class now or thinking about trying online in the future, remember these guidelines to get the most out of your online class experience. See you in the virtual classroom!
Undergraduate Academic Advising Center