So you’re taking your first online college course! It may seem easier than an in-person class: no commute; you can eat while you study; you don’t have to get dressed; you can log in whenever from wherever and still get your work done.
However, with that level of freedom there will also be some costs. For example, you can’t depend on the teacher’s reminders, like “Don’t forget you have an exam on Friday!” as you walk out the door anymore. You also can’t depend on having a regular class meeting to remind you that something’s due. Finally, because you’re not in an in-person class, your coursework will probably require a lot of writing and a lot of focused attention.
So what should you do to maximize your ability to succeed in an online class? Here are five things to get you started on the very first day.
1. Download and read the syllabus.
Many students never look at the syllabus, which is almost a guaranteed way to fail a class. In an in-person class, the professor will often go over the syllabus on the first day, but in an online class, you’re on your own. So read the syllabus. Make a note of how the professor’s grading system works. Note the professor’s contact information. Find out what you have to do and when you have to do it.
2. Set up a study schedule.
Look at important dates and times in the course calendar and note them down in a planner or reminder program so that you don’t get caught by a due date when you haven’t prepared for it. This may sound simple, but a lot of students skip this step, assuming they’ll “just remember.” Again, this is a simple and almost guaranteed way to fail a class. Be proactive and manage your time.
3. Take any “gatekeeper” exams or quizzes.
Some professors are now installing “gatekeeper” quizzes on their online college course, to make sure that students have read the syllabus and other important information like assignment descriptions. Until you take and pass them, many areas of the course will be inaccessible to you. Your class may have these, so take them as soon as you can so you will have access to the entire course.
4. Familiarize yourself with the online layout of the course.
Every learning management system (LMS) is a little different, and every instructor’s use of an LMS is also a little different. So make sure you can find the syllabus, the assignments, the discussion boards, any recorded lectures, and other information or items that you might need to access in the first couple of days of an online college course. Go back to the syllabus and the course schedule, and locate each of the things in them so that you aren’t lost on the day you have to take your first quiz and you still can’t find the folder for it.
5. E-mail the professor with any questions you have about the course.
After you’ve completed steps 1 through 4, you may have questions about how the course works. Send the professor an email asking about those questions. Be polite and professional in the email to make a good first impression. List the questions in a numbered list so the professor can easily respond to each one (and if the syllabus said “no extra credit,” don’t ask about extra credit!).
If you do these five things, you will have far less trouble in an online course. They may seem obvious or time-consuming, but they’re worth not failing the class, right?
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