Online Classes: Coronavirus Edition

In the U.S., there have been daily updates on the impact of the coronavirus in states and its impact on travels. Conferences have been canceled, study abroad trips have been postponed or canceled, and as of recent, news outlets are reporting that people avoid cruises. While this is alarming enough, colleges and universities are now considering other options as the possibility of the virus spreads: taking face-to-face classes and programs and placing them online. On the surface, this seems reasonable. No institution of higher education wants to cancel classes and risk losing students. If they can place those same classes online, then students can continue to “attend” the institution and everything is well (sort of). However, if you’re a student who has never taken an online class, or you have taken an online class and had a bad experience, then the thought of this may scare you, make you sick to your stomach, and/or completely turn you off. That’s completely understandable.

If we’re honest, online education has – at times- been viewed as an easier version of school. However, those that have actually taken an online class know that this thinking is farther from the truth. Attending class online is hard, long, and tedious. Now don’t get me wrong: the best professors can make online class worthwhile with relevant and enjoyable reading assignments, critical discussion questions, and videos that make you think deeply about a subject. However, the professor is only ½ of the equation. If you have no idea what your learning style is, are self-conscious about your academic writing ability, or have no clue as to how to pace yourself in an online class, then this could be disastrous. So, let’s look at ways to succeed in an online environment.

First, online learning is no different than face-to-face learning in that you have to process what is being presented, you can still interact with your professor and classmates, you have the typical reading assignments, and you need to engage with your class on a weekly basis. Good, right? The idea of online learning is to take the face-to-face process and create that same (or better) experience online. So in that sense, it’s a great way to reach students who might have trouble attending a traditional class.

The way it mainly differs is in the way you would interact in class. Essentially, everything now needs to be typed. When the professor poses a question, you have to type your answer. When making a comment or responding to a classmate, you (again) have to type your answer. Here’s the thing: one or two sentence answers won’t suffice. You’ll need to explain yourself in depth. There are a few main reasons for this:

  1. You’ll want to eliminate misunderstandings. It’s easy for people to misinterpret your words, so you’ll need to be clear in what you write.
  2. You’ll need to justify your thoughts. In a face-to-face class, you may respond to a question posed by your professor. The professor may then ask you clarifying questions to get you to explain a bit more. In this case, the professor is getting you to think critically and leading you on that journey. Well, that takes too long online, so you’ll need to do this yourself and explain it in a post, with support from resources. So instead of a one to two sentence post, you may end up with a 1 page discussion post.
  3. You’ll want to give a thought-provoking, longer post to provide your classmates with enough information to respond to your words. This ignites online class discussion, which will carry on for a few days.

Aside from writing everything out, you’ll also have your readings and video viewings for class, so here are some tips to help you be successful (and not overwhelmed) by an online class, should you have to take one:

  1. Give yourself time to read, view, and process information. I’m a fast reader, but it takes me a bit more time to process information; therefore, I planned extra time for myself to complete assignments when I took some online classes. Based on your learning style, give yourself enough time to complete your assignments and engage with classmates.
  2. Write a draft of your discussion posts first. This was a lifesaver for me and for other students. If you’re new to online learning, then you will quickly discover that you will make mistakes if you write and post your discussion post in real time. Instead, read the discussion question and write out your answer. Put it through the writing process and outline it, draft it, revise it, edit it, and then post it. Remember, your goal is to eliminate misunderstanding, so carefully read what you’re about to post before doing so.
  3. Utilize your professor’s “office hours.” Those office hours may appear as Skype or Zoom time, chat features, email, or phone calls. Don’t miss this opportunity. Talk to your professor regularly and ask questions. Because you don’t get to see each other face-to-face, communicating regularly with your professor will be key to your success.
  4. Communicate with your classmates. Many of your classmates will be getting accustomed to the online environment just like you (if it’s your first class), and that will be comforting. However, there will be other classmates who have navigated the online world before and they’ll be able to provide you with great tips. Creating your own online community will also be essential to your academic success.
  5. Revise that calendar. Online learning can take up to twice as long as face-to-face learning due to preparation and execution. In general, double your time for online learning. If the general rule for a 3-hour traditional class is to study/class prep for 2.5 hours per one hour (7.5 hours total), then double that for an online class. Remember, online prep means reading assignments, viewing videos, answering discussion questions, and responding to classmates. *This is a general, idealistic rule. It changes based on your online experience and your own academic abilities.

In the case that you find yourself being thrust into the world of online learning due to the virus, be sure to take the necessary steps to ensure your success in school.

Keep moving forward!

Sydney

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