So, you’ve taken the plunge and signed up for your first online course. Or maybe it isn’t your first online course but you feel like you have some room for improvement as an online student. As a current online graduate student with nearly a decade of experience working with online faculty and students, I’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to be a successful online student. Below are my top 3 tips.
Saying “communication is important” is really broad, so let’s break it down into who you should be communicating with, how, and why.
- Read your syllabus so that you know the best way to get in contact with your instructor and then use that information whenever you need to. If they’ve provided a discussion area for the class to ask questions, use it! I know so many online students who hesitate to contact their instructor because they don’t want to bother them or because they feel like they should be able to figure things out on their own. These are the same students who wouldn’t hesitate to raise their hand or stay after class to ask a question in a traditional face to face course. If you don’t say anything, your instructor will assume that everything is fine- they can’t see the confused look on your face, so speak up!
- Discussion boards, wikis, and blogs are just some of the ways that you’ll likely interact with your online classmates. Make an effort to engage with your classmates in class, but also exchange emails or start groups to connect through social media.
- Know who to contact when you need help. You know you can reach out to your professors and your classmates but did you know that many institutions offer online tutoring? For example WCU students have access to online tutoring through Smarthinking. Do you have a disability that could affect your participation in class? Make sure it’s documented with your institution’s Office of Services for Students with Disabilities so that your professor can make the appropriate accommodations. Know who your advisor is. Know how to use the library services available to you. And know who to call for technical support!
In all communication with the institution, your instructor, and other students use proper spelling, grammar, and mind your netiquette.
An online class can be isolating if you let it. Make an effort to reach out. Get to know your instructor, your classmates, and your resources. You’ll be a better student, have a more enriching learning experience, and feel more connected to your academic community.
2. Be Honest with Yourself
Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses as a student because they’re going to be amplified in an online environment. Are you motivated but disorganized? A great communicator but have poor time-management skills? Take stock and focus your efforts on strengthening your weaknesses. Almost all institutions have student support services dedicated to helping you succeed, like the Academic Success Workshops offered through the WCU Learning Assistance & Resource Center.
3. Sharpen those tech skills!
Make sure you have the basics down:
- You’ll need a computer AND an internet connection- or at least access to both on a regular basis. Most online courses are not (yet!) designed to be taken on your phone or tablet. The excuse that you didn’t have access to a computer or internet to take your test/hand in your assignment/contribute to your group project won’t go over well with anyone. Other recommended hardware includes a webcam and a headset/microphone combo for online meetings and presentations.
- Software and Applications. If you’re a student at WCU, you have free access to Microsoft Office 365 as well as other useful software downloads. Also be sure to have at least 2 browsers installed on your computer. Most new PCs come with Microsoft Edge and Macs come with Safari, but we also recommend installing Chrome and/or Firefox.
- Know the basics. Make sure you know how to edit, save, and attach files.
- Be open to trying new technology tools in your online course- it’s part of the learning experience!
What tips would you add to this list? Tell us in the comments!