By Lillian Williams
The proliferation of online teaching and learning is changing the landscape in education. Whether K-12, or college, enrollment figures for online courses are rising. But, studies show that while some students are successful in these courses, others seem to drift aimlessly in their virtual classrooms. After taking an online course in the summer of 2011, I offer the following tips about how to improve your performance in an online course:
Set aside a certain time of day, or evening, in which you devote an allotted amount of time to your coursework. Here’s the rub: When there are no set classroom times—as is the case in the online environment—some students forget to set their intellectual alarm clocks. Schedule the time to complete assignments. In other words, set your internal classroom bell, and stick to the schedule.
Does it matter exactly where—that is the space—in which you do your online course
assignments? Yes and no. It’s better to have a desk, or table, in your home
devoted to your online studies. That provides a comfortable, reliable place
where you can concentrate on coursework. Barring that, however, carve out a
spot as far away from the noise of your environment as possible, each time you
plan to study.
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
Reality check: There are no teachers, or classmates, sitting close by who quickly ask:
“Any questions? Do you understand this assignment or concept?” Therefore, you
must be the communications driver. Ask questions right away if you are puzzled about an assignment or lesson point. Chances are other students
might have the same questions. Be the catalyst. Start the round of questions to
the instructor. Seek clarity on issues, until you get an answer that your
intellectual system can digest. Online instructors are ready to answer
questions, but you must ask!
The primary way that you will likely communicate is through writing. Your writing
should be concise, clear, and cogent to get your point across quickly, but
efficiently. Both your classmates, as well as the instructor, will appreciate
good writing skills. Also, depending upon the nature of the course, writing
skills might be a key part of your grade. Your writing might be displayed in an
online forum in which students exchange ideas through a virtual discussion
hall. Or, writing might be required for short quiz answers, essays, or other
assignments. Observe the rules of good grammar. If you need a grammar
refresher, some excellent websites, such as Purdue University‘s Online Writing Lab, offer
free grammar tutorials. If you are an aspiring journalist, you might try
Poynter Institute’s free, self-directed grammar
Like a course offered in the brick-and-mortar environment, principles, values
and skills gained through an online course directly depend upon inputs from the
student, as well as the instructor. Besides the requirements mentioned earlier,
students must have a winning attitude. In plain language, that means online
students need to be self-starters. Sure, an online instructor will send
reminders about assignments. The instructor will even follow-up on students
who skip online discussions.
But these prompts only go so far. As a student, you need to trigger your own alarm bells. How can you start to do that? Feed your spirit with words of encouragement, steadfastness, and determination. Recall the mantra of your favorite mentor: “Don’t give up!” That’s the resolute attitude you will need to succeed in the virtual school environment. Physical prompts may not be there. So, keep your mental prompts on alert. Stay focused. Stay on track. Surrender not to distractions.