Has your college just switched from classroom-based to online instruction? Do you feel like you have just been pushed off a cliff? Maybe your professor’s engaging lectures and keen sense of humor keep you motivated. You just can’t imagine having the same enthusiasm for learning when interacting with a computer. Maybe you are simply overwhelmed by the responsibility that you will be all alone figuring out how to navigate an online course or keep track of all the assignments that were previously spelled out for you in class. Perhaps your weekly study group has been critical to your success in college, and all its members have departed for home in different cities.
Your concerns about a change in mode of instruction mid-semester are certainly valid. Don’t panic, get organized, and prepare to take advantage of the many resources available to you. All of your classmates are in the same situation, and you have many of the tools that you need to succeed already. If you can successfully transition from high school to the higher expectations of college, chances are that you can successfully move from the classroom to online learning.
Knowing your software is important. Most likely, you are already familiar with your school’s Learning Management System, such as Canvas, Blackboard, or Moodle. You’ve probably used it to take some tests or submit some assignments, and almost certainly used it to check your grades. Your knowledge of how it works will come in handy. Don’t hesitate to call or e-mail your school’s help desk for more assistance if your professor is using features that you are not familiar with. Searching YouTube is also a great way to find videos on using the Learning Management System. Be sure to log onto each course daily to check for announcements or assignment reminders. Your professors can check to see when you log in. They will notice if you don’t show up.
Beware of Procrastination. Waiting until the last minute to complete assignments or study for a test is a common pitfall for all college students. It can be an even bigger problem in an online class. If you’ve lasted at least one semester, you’ve probably figured out that attending class is the most important habit for success. Here are some things you need to know.
Some online instructors perform a live video broadcast or a live class discussion online at the time that class normally meets. You should be logged on and engaged even if the professor cannot see you.
Many will record a lecture for you to watch at whatever time you like. Some will even forego the lecture completely and expect you to learn the material from a textbook or from an online interactive activity. When class no longer meets at scheduled times, it is very easy to put off your work until the end of the week or until a day or two before the test. Being bombarded with too much material at once will put you into information overload and hinder successful mastery of the material. It also means that you don’t have time to ask questions.
Pace yourself. Set aside regular times each week for listening to lectures and doing the readings, preferably the same schedule you used while at school. If the class met for 50 minutes MWF, taking time to watch video lectures and take notes three days per week will help you stay on track. Schedule time to complete out of class assignments just as you would on campus.
Some online learners skip the recorded video lectures entirely, but this is never a good idea. This is like skipping class. It is easier to attend and listen to the professor explain the concepts than to figure out the material on your own. Assigned readings are supporting material for lectures or class discussions rather than a substitute for them.
Take notes from the videos just as you would from a face to face lecture. If the professor talks faster than he would in class, pause the video or watch it twice. Since research shows that our attention span for recorded lectures is shorter than for face-to-face instruction, consider taking a short break about every 20 minutes.
Don’t watch lecture videos on your phone. Use the largest screen possible. Research shows that we are able to pay attention to a larger screen more easily. Most importantly, keep distractions such as your cell phone, family, and pets out of the room.
Take advantage of online office hours. Professors may use web conferencing software or the phone. Interacting with your professor will help you sharpen your learning. Your professor will also know you are actively involved in the course.
Other resources. Your school’s tutoring center and writing center probably offer online appointments during this time. Schedule an appointment with them at least a week before a test or major paper is due. Have a draft or list of questions ready.
Maintain or form an online study group via the phone or a web conferencing tool such as FaceTime. You can even keep in touch with international classmates for free using WhatsApp. A scheduled meeting with a study group will help set a deadline for you to watch the videos, complete the readings, or try the homework before your group meets. This is a great way to ward off procrastination and make you feel less isolated.
If you have never taken an online course before, remember that some of your professors may have never taught one! Patience from everyone will pay off. This experience will also help you develop communication skills that will be valuable to you in the future.
Jennifer E. Price is a biologist who has much experience teaching online as well as traditional college courses. She lives in Palmyra, Virginia.