Surviving Distance Learning
So you’re enrolled at an online university and ready to pursue your distance learning degree.
All you’ve ever done is go to school in a classroom, and this seems really different. How will you survive the experience?
Be ready to log on to your school’s distance learning website first thing in the morning when the class rosters open. Although the virtual classroom can seat many more students than in a typical college or university, there is still a limit on how many students can enroll in each course. The earlier you register, the better chances you’ll have of getting the classes you want.
Always have a contingency plan, just in case your computer or internet goes down. See if a friend will let you use their system should the need arise. Perhaps the local library has a computer bank for public use. Many companies even offer an internet café for their employees to utilize during breaks. For your own benefit and peace of mind, become familiar with both PCs and MACs and different ISPs. Remember, tech problems occur “when,” not “if.”
Since a web update or change can happen at any given time, check your class board/website daily. You never know when your instructor will be generous and extend an assignment date or cancel a test.
In the same vein, respond to all class email and/or correspondence on a regular basis. Again, your grade is dependant upon your level of online class participation, and the longer your wait, the more likely that your insights/observations on the material will be posted by someone else. If a teacher is the one requesting communication, respond immediately. Or, at least send a note saying, “I have received your email and will reply in length this evening.” As a general rule, try to respond to all messages within 12-24 hours.
Always use a stable postal address and valid email address. Also, since your email address will be given to your instructors and is a reflection upon you as a student, try to create a professional sounding screen name. For example, it would be better to have an email along the lines of firstname.lastname@example.org than SexyPartyGirl@address.com. You can sign up for free email accounts on many web-based search engines, such as Google and Yahoo. In the long run, it is in your best interests to use an email service that is web based rather than terminal based. In the event that your computer dies, you will still be able to access your email and be able to send/receive assignments from a different computer.
To keep from getting buried under the amount of emails and posting board/RSS feeds, create mailbox folders to sort incoming messages, emails that need to be saved, ongoing assignments, research, etc. Some email providers allow you to mark messages as Unread or for Follow Up, so that you can look at the subject line and know immediately what you still need to work on/respond to without having to waste time back-searching.
In email messages and on the posting boards, strive to be uber-polite in all communications. You do not have the benefit of vocal inflections, facial features, or body language to help carry your message – only your words. Thus, a wrong word might be taken as hostile or inappropriate by your classmates or professor. For example, the phrase “You’re wrong,” takes on multiple meanings in the virtual classroom. Those words can be meant jokingly, as a statement of fact, argumentative, or as a personal attack. In general, avoid such statements (which are considered flaming) and always back up a claim with evidence. Additionally, if someone has posted something that you feel strongly about (either in agreement or opposition), contact them off list. There is no room for personal conflicts or commentary in an online learning community.