Online Classes: The Basics
by Lorie Witkop
searching for graduate degree programs in order to keep
my teaching certification current, I weighed attending
my first-choice school against remaining free to relocate.
The answer to my divided interests came from an Online
MA in Education. I was a little nervous about doing
something so different and new, but I was also excited
by the possibilities and decided to try it out. Now,
having completed my degree, you might have a hard time
getting me to go back to a traditional classroom!
There are many different styles of online classes, but
there are a few things that are constant among all classes.
Learning more about the basics of online classes can
help you decide if they're right for you, and once you
enroll, let you get the most out of the experience.
Before you even register for a class, there should be
a website that lists any technical requirements. Especially
take note of any required software.
For instance, one professor required us to download
a particular application so that we could listen to
recorded comments. Several other classes asked
us to post assignments to the web, so web-authoring
software was helpful. Knowing about these technical
requirements ahead of time will prevent any
unnecessary stumbling blocks as you begin your new learning
adventure. Don't miss out because your outdated browser
can't support features on the class website or e-mails
are going to a schoolaccount you haven't activated yet.
The Class Website
All online classes will have a class Website that serves
as the class meeting place. Some schools use commercial
products like Blackboard,
while others create their
own interface. The instructor will post readings
and assignments here, you'll have class discussions,
and you might even upload your homework to this site.
Once it's time for the class to begin, the first thing
you should do is
familiarize yourself with your virtual classroom. Check
out the site's features and make sure that you can perform
required tasks like posting to a discussion board or
opening up the chat room. Consider the time you spend
just exploring the class Website an investment in your
future success with the class.
Assignments and Deadlines
Of course, in addition to getting used to all the technical
features of your class Website, you should also read
the syllabus and assignments to get a sense of upcoming
work and deadlines. Notice whether class readings will
be provided for you online or if you will need to purchase
any textbooks. Readings
and assignments are usually organized by week, just
like in a face-to-face class. Depending on the class,
there may also be deadlines within each week. For example,
you may be asked to read several articles and post a
response by Tuesday, post a reply in the discussion
forum by Wednesday and then write a summary of your
thoughts by Friday. While staying organized and being
aware of deadlines is important for any class you take,
it's even more vital to an online class because you
won't have any in-person reminders.
Many class Websites have a place for you to upload a
picture and personal profile. Some classes will turn
introductions into the first assignment. Take
full advantage of any official tools like this, and
if your class doesn't provide a getting-to-know-you
assignment take the initiative to say hello through
e-mail or a post on the class discussion boards. It
takes a little more effort to get to know your classmates
when you can't just turn to the person sitting next
to you and say hi, but it is definitely worth it in
terms of the connections you'll make.