Online Learning

Succeeding in an online course

Are you thinking about enrolling in an online course, but you're not sure what an online course is and if it's right for you? Or, have you already enrolled in one and just want to learn how to succeed in it?

In either case, you've come to the right place. This writen information is intended to give you a comprehensive look at online learning at CLC. We hope that it not only answers all of your questions about online courses, but that it also provides you with the academic "tools" necessary to thrive in this relatively new, and exciting, method of learning.

Accordian - Online Learning

The most direct and simple explanation is that an online course is a course conducted over the Internet. In order to participate in your class you will be required to log in over the internet and do things like access class documents, read announcements, communicate with your instructor and classmates, complete assignments, participate in discussions and groupwork, and take quizzes and tests.

Most of your work in an online class will be asynchronous, which means you can do your coursework at whatever time of the day you want even at 2a.m. in your pajamas. Just be sure, of course, to submit your work by the required deadlines.

The exception to participating at your own timeframe is during weekly required chats. Sure, you can still wear your pajamas, but these chats take place once a week in a chatroom or in a webconference, and they are conducted in real-time, synchronously. Your instructor will announce the dates and times when your course begins so you can plan your schedule through the next 8 weeks of class.

Casa Loma’s courses are designed in a linear format using weekly modules. In other words, you complete one module per week before moving to the next, and you work within the instructor's timeline, not yours. Coursed are not self-paced.

In a sense there is flexibility within each module, however, in that you can complete your assignments and submit them any time within the week. You can also post to the discussion forums anytime within the week so long as you are sure to post at least three different days.

 

Taking courses online works well for many students, but the truth is that they are not easier than residential courses.

To be successful in the online environment you must learn to be an independent learner, self-motivated, and have decent computer skills. If you are a procrastinator who relies heavily on the instructor for motivation and can't use a computer very well, you will need to incorporate new learning skills so you can succeed in your required online courses.

Ways that online courses are beneficial:

  • Lifestyle. Many students juggle work and family, and they just can't get to campus as often as an entirely residential program requires. If you are organized and disciplined you will do well in your online courses and reap the benefits of only being on campus a few days a week.
  • Format. Many students like the interactive nature of online courses. For example, students can feel more confident participating in class discussions because they have adequate time to organize their thoughts and post something they feel proud of. Some students really enjoy using the technology.

Convenience. Students don't have to deal with traffic or parking problems. You can complete your assignments from home or work.

  1. Online courses require at least as much time dedicated by the student as face-to-face courses. Typically, successful students report spending more time, not less, than with a face-to-face class.
  2. Textual materials presented on the Internet are the primary source of directions and information for online courses; therefore, strong reading skills are very important for success in an online course.
  3. You should be able to complete the following tasks to be successful in an online course: navigate the Internet, use email, including attaching a file to an email message, download a program and install it, and do a search on the Web.
  4. Online courses require frequent and diverse uses of technology for accessing information and assignments; therefore, you need to be comfortable working with various types of technology to be successful.
  5. Online students sometimes neglect courses because of personal or professional circumstances, unless they have specific and compelling reasons for taking the course. Procrastination is the most common pitfall in taking an online course.
  6. Some students prefer the independence of online courses, while others find it uncomfortable.
  7. Online courses offer students greater freedom of scheduling, but they can require more self-discipline than face-to-face courses.
  8. Some people learn best by interacting with others. The individual student must take responsibility for regularly contacting other students and the instructor.
  9. Online courses require more self-direction since face-to-face instructions are sometimes not available.
  10. In online courses, instructors are not able to respond to questions immediately like they are in face-to-face classes.

As in face-to-face courses, good study habits will help you succeed in online courses. In this lesson, you will learn the necessary strategies to ensure that you are successful online.

Get ready to learn

Before the class even begins, make sure that you are organized. Here are a few things you can do to prepare for your online course:

  • Create a folder on your computer, and label it with the name of the online class. Save all of your work and course documents into this folder. You might also want to create subfolders within your main folder, and label them "Assignments", "Research", "Notes", etc.
  • If you are the type of student who needs hard copies of class materials, purchase folders or binders to hold your printouts. Label your folders or binders, and perhaps even color-code them for specific tasks. If you prefer to take notes with a pencil or pen (as opposed to typing), purchase and label a notebook.
  • Create a folder inside your email program, and label it with the name of the class. Move class emails into this folder so they won't get mixed in with your personal email. If your instructor uses the Messages tool in Blackboard, you can create folders by topics and move emails into them.

Choose the right time and place to study

If you're like many students who learn online, you probably juggle your studies with work, family, or both. In addition, there's your social life, leisure time, exercise, and possibly other things in your life. Therefore, you need to schedule in time for your studies. And since you'll be using a computer, you need to make sure that you and your computer are in the proper location for studying.

Use a calendar to schedule your study time and your discussion posting.  Include logging into the class and completing classwork online as part of your study time. Schedule your study time in one- or two-hour blocks, and try to stick to your schedule.

Of course, only you know when your concentration level is the highest, so schedule your studying during that time. If you typically fall asleep around 11 p.m., don't begin studying at 10:30.

Some other tips:

  • Schedule some of your study time prior to your weekly chat. This way, if you have questions, you can get answers fairly quickly.
  • For midterms, finals, research papers, or any other big project, schedule your study time far enough in advance to avoid a big rush of work close to the due date.
  • For tasks such as those above, break the work up into manageable amounts. Study two chapters a day in the week prior to the midterm, for example, instead of all eight the night before.

Where you study can be equally important as when you study. Obviously, you'll need to pick a place that is quiet and free of distractions. If you're like many online students, that place will be at home.

  • Make sure your study environment has good lighting and ventilation. Try to reduce glare on your computer screen.
  • Have plenty of room for study materials: texts, notes, paper, pencils, dictionary, reference books, etc.
  • If you use a laptop, do not place the computer on your lap while leaning back in a reclining chair. You increase your chances of falling asleep. The same applies with reading a book. Use a chair with a supportive back, and place the laptop on a desk or table. The heat from a laptop can cause discomfort to your lap, as well.

Procrastination -- the act of putting something off until the last minute -- can be a much bigger problem in an online course than in a face-to-face course. With a face-to-face course, you know you have to be on campus at a certain time on specific days. You even have an instructor who can constantly remind you to keep doing your work.

This dynamic changes online because you choose when you want to log into your class. And although the instructor can post announcements and send multiple emails to remind you to do your work, if you don't check your email or log into your class often, those emails and announcements don't do much good.

An overlooked problem with procrastination is the inevitable technical glitch. Some students have missed due dates because they waited until the very end to complete assignments only to have their computer crash or their ISP fail.

Self-discipline can counteract procrastination, and you will need it to succeed online. Using your calendar properly can help minimize procrastinating. But it is only a start. If you have a tendency to procrastinate -- after all, you are human -- here are some strategies to get you on the right track:

  1. Set really specific goals. Instead of "Finish Module 1 tasks", write down "Complete email assignment, and complete discussion assignment."
  2. After you write down all of your goals for a day or a week, prioritize them.
  3. For assignments, such as research papers, that have due dates far into the future, impose your own deadlines for finishing specific parts of the assignment.
  4. Enforce your starting and ending times.
  5. Reward yourself for accomplishing goals.

At home, solicit the support of your family and friends. This support will help others respect your study time. It will also come in handy, for instance, if you need to share computer access with a family member or roommate.

Within the class itself, it's recommended that you identify one or more classmates with whom you can review assignments, prepare for exams, provide moral support, etc. Here are some possible ways for you to connect with other students:

  • Use email to communicate
  • Share phone numbers with other students to communicate by phone
  • Form study groups so you can meet in person, if you live close enough to each other.

Also be sure you are proactive and keep in touch with your instructor and program director. If you find you are struggling in an online class you still have options for tutoring and other support available to you as you do for your residential courses.

The key to succeeding within your class is to actively participate in it. The less engaged you are with the content of the class, with the instructor, or with the other students, the less chance you have at being successful.

Therefore, if you have questions about anything in class, ask them. Your discussion forums are there to discuss the weekly material as well as any questions you might have with the material. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in the forum, chances are some of your fellow students have the same or similar question. Besides it can also contribute to interesting discussion. If your question is more of a personal nature related to your progress in the course, please email those questions directly to your instructor.

Instructors always welcome questions from students. In the opening module titled Course Description, you will see the various ways in which you can contact your instructor.

In an online course, the importance of reading instructions carefully cannot be stressed enough.  You can use this as practice for your career where it will also be important to follow instructions to the letter. Your instructions typically refer to your assignments and how they need to be completed. It’s best to read the instructions a few times to make sure you understand them and then contact your instructor or post a question in the discussion forum if you need further clarification.

Don’t way too long to ask for help so that you still have sufficient time to complete your assignment within the deadline.

There will be a lot of reading in an online course, not just in your textbook but also on the Web. It is important that you read actively in order to help you better understand the material.

Reading actively doesn't mean just taking notes while you are reading; it also involves developing a mental strategy for reading. The following is a strategy you can use while reading your textbook.

  1. Prior to reading, recall the main ideas of the topic you just finished studying. When you look at the topic you are about to read, try to predict what you think you will learn.
  2. Preview the reading. Scan for, and read, headings, subheadings, bolded text, definitions, graphs, illustrations, and diagrams. Based on your preview, revise your predictions if necessary. Also, create a list of questions you want answered in the reading.
  3. Read carefully. Go back to the beginning, and start reading. While doing so, make a mental note each time one of your predictions was addressed and one of your questions was answered.
  4. Determine the most important sections of the reading, and summarize them. Keep your summaries short and write them in your own words. If you are a more visual learner, create your own visual aids by writing key points and connecting the relationships among them with lines or arrows. You can even draw pictures that represent points.
  5. If you are sure that the content of the reading is going to show up on a test, you might want to take more detailed notes, probably in an outline format. Prior to doing this, most students like to mark their books. If you mark your books, don't mark everything; try to decipher the most important words, phrases, and sentences, and mark those.
  6. Connect graphics to text. For example, after reading a section that has an accompanying diagram, study that diagram until you fully understand the section.
  7. Review your notes carefully.
  8. If you have questions on anything you didn't understand in the reading, ask your instructor or your classmates.

Before you take an exam or quiz, try to get as much information about it as possible. For instance, find out what kind of test it will be (multiple choice, essay, short-answer, etc.), what material it will cover, and how many points it is worth. Typically this information will be available in the quiz area before you actually begin the timed section of the quiz.

All quizzes and exams are timed so make sure you allow yourself enough time to complete.

When you begin studying for the exam, try to study in one- to two-hour time blocks to help keep your mind fresh. Also, take breaks between study sessions; simply getting up and moving around can help refresh your mind and body.

Some other pointers include:

  • Review actively. Pay attention to areas in the weekly material where you have difficulty. It’s a good idea to ask for clarification on anything as you go along so you will be ready if it shows up on a quiz.
  • For an essay exam, practice writing short paragraphs on topics covered in class.
  • Anticipate the kinds of questions the instructor might ask. Make up a test yourself, and see if you can answer the questions correctly.
  • Set up a study group or schedule study sessions with your group if you already have one. Ask each other questions, and discuss important concepts. Stay on task; this is not time for socializing.

Once you are ready to take the quiz or exam and if it is allowed you may want to scan all the questions first to see what you are going to need to know.

Here are some other strategies while taking the exam:

  • Answer the questions you're sure of first. If there are matching questions, answer the items you know first, then guess at the rest. If it's a multiple choice test, eliminate the obviously incorrect answers first. If it's a true/false test, look for key words such as "always," "sometimes," "never," and "usually."
  • Do some brainstorming before you begin answering essay questions. Jot down key words, ideas, concepts, phrases. Try some free writing to loosen up. Divide up the allotted time so you'll have time to recopy (if necessary) and to proofread carefully.
  • If you have several essay questions to answer, divide the time equally among the number of questions. For example, if you must answer four questions in two hours, limit yourself to 30 minutes per question.
  • Try to allow yourself time at the end to double-check your answers.

Make sure you have answered all of the questions before clicking the Save and Submit button. You can't inadvertently submit an exam by accidentally clicking Save and Submit or pressing Enter on your keyboard because a dialog box will pop up, asking you to confirm your submission. However, it's good practice to review your answers prior to submitting.

The CLC Library web site is a great place to start your research efforts. As an online student, you have access to the same resources that face-to-face students’ access. Those resources include a wealth of information on how to research, where to research, and what to research.

As you can guess, the most prevalent method of communicating online is through writing. Sure, you can always call your instructor or classmates and speak to them, but for the most part, you will communicate via email, Discussion Board postings, blogs and journals. It’s important to check your email at least once a day and to identify yourself in any correspondences. Below are more guidelines for online communication:

Netiquette is a combination of Internet and etiquette. Basically, it describes things you should and shouldn't do while communicating online. This is especially important in a classroom environment. Here are some examples:

  • Don't capitalize all letters while posting a thought or emailing someone. THIS IS CONSIDERED SHOUTING, AND IT IMPLIES THAT YOU ARE ANGRY. Capitalize words only to highlight an important point or to distinguish a title or heading.
  • Never use profanity or make hurtful comments toward someone or when referring to someone's work. This is considered flaming.
  • Be careful when using humor or sarcasm; you never know how someone else will interpret it.
  • Be respectful of diverse opinions.
  • Don't post inappropriate pictures, links or comments. Use your good judgment.

A simple rule to follow is to communicate with people in the same manner you want them to communicate with you; that is, in a friendly, respectful way. Also, it is helpful to think of your classes as preparation for your professional life. Learning to communicate clearly and effectively is critical in the professional setting. Practicing here will be incredibly helpful.

The most important thing to understand about emoticons and acronyms is when it's OK to use them in class and correspondences. Most instructors allow them in emails and chats, but not in "academic" postings and papers. Be sure to check with your instructor to find out what is allowed in your class.

Whether you are using email or the Discussion Board, you should also be aware of some other issues:

  • When attaching a file, make sure your recipient(s) can open it. For example, if you attach a WordPerfect document, there's a chance that someone doesn't have a program to open that file. It's best to stick with Microsoft Word or RTF (rich text format). If you know how to create PDF documents, anyone can read those with Adobe's free PDF Reader.
  • When attaching a file, make sure your document isn't overly large. Some email programs won't allow you to receive a document that exceeds a file size limit, and Blackboard might not even let you attach such a large file.
  • Before attaching a file, scan it for viruses. Your recipients -- and their computers -- will be grateful.

Here are some specific tips for writing email:

  • Identify yourself in your email… your name may be in your email address but it is good practice to identify yourself in the body of an email so your instructor doesn’t have to search for who you are.
  • Make sure that the subject line of your email is relevant. Your instructor and classmates should be able to tell what the topic of your email is just by glancing at the subject line. If your instructor gave you directions on exactly what to write in the subject line for email sent to her, follow them. Some instructors won't accept emails that don't follow the class protocol.
  • When replying to an email, choose to include the original message in your reply for easy referral by the originator.
  • Before you send your email, review it to make sure it says exactly what you want it to say.

A couple more things about email in an online course: First, don't forward someone else's email without their permission. Second, read your instructor's policy on how quickly he or she will reply to your email. Keep in mind that instructors are not online and teaching 24/7 although they are required to reply to your email within 24 hours. In the world of texting and instant messaging 24 hours can seem like a long time so if it is an emergency it may be easier to make a phone call.

If you're like most online students, you're very responsible about your schoolwork. You're also very honest about your schoolwork. Unfortunately, there might be some students who think they can get away with cheating in an online course. These students need to realize that instructors have methods of deterring cheating—particularly on exams—and detecting plagiarism. CLC has a no tolerance policy for cheating and plagiarism. Plagiarism includes copying information from websites to post in the discussion forum so just to be safe make sure you are always posting original words, even if you use other resources to help you formulate your thoughts. 

Cheating and Plagiarism policies can be found in the Casa Loma Catalog and Student Handbook. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with them before you begin your classes.

Use your good judgment when posting to your class. Don't post anything that you would not show or say in a face-to-face class. Of course, different people can interpret that differently, but the most important thing is that you should try to avoid offending people. We're not referring to typical class discourse here; we're referring to the following:

  • Posting lewd or suggestive pictures in your class
  • Posting jokes that can be interpreted as offensive
  • Posting racist, sexist, or other hateful comments
  • Posting profanities

Do you have to be a technical wizard to succeed in an online course?  No but it’s a good idea to be familiar with technology. Here are the requirements for participating in CLC’s online courses:

Access to a PC or Macintosh system (see below for details).

Internet access either via modem and phone line or a direct network connection (highly recommended to have a minimum of high speed BROADBAND access - DSL or high speed Cable connectivity preferred)

Internet service provider for home access and/or access from work (must have prior to start of the course).

Access to the online environment for a dependent on course.

An e-mail account for sending and receiving electronic mail via the Internet (this should be your own private email account, not one shared with someone else, shared email accounts will cause problems with accessing the system for any users with shared email accounts)

Personal Computer (PC):

  • IBM compatible Pentium IV 1Ghz MHz PCs and above
  • Operating System: Windows XP Service Pack 3, Windows Vista Service Pack 2, Windows 7 with all current updates installed (updates available at http://update.microsoft.com)
  • 512MB MB RAM (or more) 1GB (preferred)
  • Internet connection--broadband (DSL speeds) recommended, but a 56k modem is minimally acceptable
  • Sound card and speakers
  • Microphone and earphone OR headset (preferred but not mandatory)
  • At least 128 MB free disk space
  • Monitor with 1024 x 728 pixel resolution or better
  • Software – install latest versions unless otherwise specified:
  • Current anti-virus software
  • Microsoft Word 2003 or newer (or Word-format compatible word processor, Open Office, etc...)
  • Java/JRE: http://java.sun.com/javase/downloads/index.jsp
  • Adobe Flash Player: http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/
  • Adobe Reader: http://get.adobe.com/reader
  • QuickTime: http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/ 

Chrome, Opera, AOL, Prodigy, CompuServe, and other ISP-provided browsers are not supported.

Macintosh (MAC):

Chrome, Opera, AOL, Prodigy, CompuServe, and other ISP-provided browsers are not supported.

Software

It's always best to have a word processing program, such as Microsoft Word, on your computer. This way, prior to submitting assignments, you can check your work for spelling and grammar errors.