Online Education For Dummies
The ups and downs of the global economy have sent more learners back to school to retool or add credentials to their resume, and online education allows learners to address their professional development needs at a time and in a manner that may be more flexible with their lifestyles. To succeed online, you need a few basic technology skills and pointers on how to stay safe; you also need to evaluate online schools carefully, communicate clearly, and develop good study habits.
Preparing for Online Education
You should have a few basic technology skills before you enroll in any form of online education, whether it’s a single online course for fun or a fully online bachelor’s degree program. Make sure you know how to
Attach a microphone and headset to your computer
Create folders and subfolders on your computer’s hard drive or a flash drive to help facilitate organization of coursework
Open your preferred Internet browser and navigate to various Web sites
Open multiple browser windows, either in separate floating windows or in multiple tabs in a single window
Send and receive e-mails with attachments
Save and open attachments, including audio and video files
Download and install applications and application plug-ins such as Java
Staying Safe during Your Online Education
Stories abound about the dangers of the Internet, but a few simple measures can go a long way toward ensuring that your online education experience is safe and worry-free. Follow these guidelines:
Make payments for classes, books, and the like only at a secure site with https:// as the prefix.
Create a single word-processing or spreadsheet file where you keep all your login information. Save that file securely with a password. You then have to remember only one password rather than many.
Never tell your password(s) to anyone.
Don’t disclose your life story to classmates. Maintain some privacy.
If you need to provide contact information to your instructor or peers when working on a group project, provide only information necessary to complete the project, such as your school e-mail address and your mobile phone.
Be safe when meeting classmates in person for the first time. Always meet in a public space, such as a restaurant or café, during common business hours. You also may want to notify your instructor that you’re planning to meet and provide the day and time. Afterwards, you can provide your instructor with a summary of what you accomplished.
Some Questions to Ask as You Evaluate Online Schools
Many schools offer online education, but not all schools are created the same. To help you decide where to apply, these are questions you may want to ask as you investigate online programs and their staffs:
Is this school or program accredited (proven to meet academic standards by an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education)?
Are the courses self-paced or led by an instructor?
How many class hours (total time in hours) a week will each course take?
What is the student/faculty ratio?
What is the student retention rate?
Who are the faculty and what kind of training have they received?
When do classes begin?
What if I need to stop out (temporarily withdraw)?
Is financial aid available?
What are the minimal technology requirements (hardware and software) for taking an online course at your institution?
What are the minimal technology competencies a student must have to take an online course at your institution?
Are there any expectations that I be online at a specific time to conference with my instructor or classmates?
Communicating Clearly in Online Courses
Communication is vital in all forms of education, and online education is no exception. The following are a few tips to help you communicate effectively online:
Get to the point. Succinct writing is valued.
Always reference other authors; use proper citation methods! Your instructor will tell you which specific method to use.
Don’t type in all caps. It’s like shouting.
Be aware that anything written can be misconstrued. Try to write as if your grandmother would read it — use polite and professional language without innuendos or sarcasm.
If you’re working on a group project, copy the instructor if you’re using e-mail so she knows your group’s progress.
Don’t be afraid to use the phone. It’s okay to call the instructor if you have a question.
Don’t overpost in discussion forums. If your instructor asks for 2 posts, 4 is fine, but 14 is too many!
If possible, communicate special circumstances as soon as possible (family emergencies, vacations, and so forth), not after the fact.
A Few Habits of Successful Online Students
Some of the most successful students are those who learn self-discipline in respect to their study habits. The lack of pressure that comes with meeting face-to-face is absent in the online environment. Therefore, it’s important to heed the following suggestions for establishing good study habits for online education:
Set a schedule for studying and log in frequently (daily if possible).
Print the syllabus, instructor contact information, and course calendar on Day 1.
Read all rubrics (documents outlining assessment criteria for assignments) and guidelines carefully, and self-check before starting assignments and again before submitting them.
Find out how to use the library services for your institution. Seek credible resources for your work, and don’t just rely on Google or Wikipedia.
Double-check citations and references for accuracy. Avoid plagiarism!
Compose assignments in a word processor and save everything before transferring it to the online environment.
Actively participate and interact with your classmates and instructor. Don’t be a wallflower.