How to Succeed in an Online Course

Dear Students and Teachers:

With many of us transitioning to teaching and taking courses online, we are learning that we need new ways to approach these courses. This tip sheet is one I present my students at the beginning of the semester, based on issues that come up in my courses. Though some tips specifically refer to Canvas, which is the course management system used currently at IU Southeast, they are easily adaptable to your own online course management system. I hope you find them useful. Please share in the comments section any tips you have for surviving online courses!

An online course has the culture of a class but experiences it and delivers it through a Web browser. It superficially resembles, but it is not, the culture of social media. 

Tip 1: Web Browsers and their Pesky Issues

  • If you have an ad blocker installed in your browser or have disabled pop-ups, turn off ad blocker for Canvas Web pages and re-enable pop-up windows to make sure you have all the functions of Canvas working correctly.
  • If you find something you need still doesn’t work, try logging in on another browser. What works in Chrome may not work in Firefox or Safari, etc. etc. etc. 

Tip 2: Finding Out When Assignments Are Due

  • There are several ways to find out what is due in your Canvas course. You can click on the Calendar, you can view the Course Stream, you can click on the Syllabus and see a list of assignments on the right and by scrolling to the end of the syllabus, and you can click on “Assignments.” I recommend simply looking at our schedule which will be displayed on the home page and which I organized for you. 

Tip 3: OMG, I lost all my work when the internet went down.

  • Why, oh why, do we never remember this happens? I hate doing work over again. I’m entirely too trusting of the Internet, and then when the internet goes belly up, I’m sunk! So here’s what I’ve learned to do:
    • Choice A: Write your discussion forum reflections and responses and your peer reviews using another program. NOT in your Web browser. Save your work, then copy and paste it into the appropriate box. This way, you’ll never lose your work. NOTE: If your battery runs out or if you lose electric power in a storm – this tip will not help!
    • Choice B: Be foolhardy and trust the Internet will have 100% up time. Type right in your browser. But every minute or so, click “select all” (ctl-A) and copy your work to the computer clipboard. That way it will be saved and when online goes offline you won’t lose everything. 
    • Choice C: Do none of this. We will hear you scream from the adjacent county. 

Tip 4: If You’re Already Impatient With These Tips, This Tip Is Especially for You

  • During the last couple of years I’ve noticed that many students are too impatient when they are online, and that many students do not read the complete directions. Therefore, they fail assignments due to incompleteness or doing the wrong thing. Partly, this is due to skimming rather than paying attention to the words and to the screen. This is what you need to do:
    • Turn off distractions while doing coursework. A good way to avoid applying social media and Internet habits inappropriately and self-destructively to an online class is to Close all other screens during your class time. Study and write some place where it is quiet and you are not tempted to divide your attention between college-time screens and social-time screens. Research shows that there is no such thing as multitasking. Divided attention, research has discovered, also divides intelligence and accomplishment.
    • Take time to revise and proof-read before you submit. 
    • Read instructions as well as your work aloud to catch errors and other problems (and to simply hear how your English sounds and flows). If you are in a public place you can whisper.
    • Make sure you scroll down to read all the instructions. Sometimes only part of the instructions will be visible on the screen and it may not look like there is more. Always scroll down. Don’t assume you’ve read it all.
    • Do not skim instructions. Force yourself to pay attention to what the assignment is asking you to do. For example, if the assignment states that using new terms correctly is an important part of the assignment, and you skim over this instruction, you will fail the assignment. If the assignment requires that you cite specific examples, then details that give evidence for your points, and not vague, generic references or summaries, are needed in order to pass. 
    • Recognize that you need to read and study course materials more than once. Especially in an online setting, you will not retain what you have only read or skimmed once from a screen.
    • If you have enough screen “real estate,” open study guides and other material in another window to use as a reference while completing assignments. You can print your study materials and keep them in a notebook to refer to. Remember, it’s required that you make connections between the lessons and your other assignments and writing.

Tip: you can right click your mouse over a link to open that link or menu item or document in another tab or another window of your browser. That way you can open something you need for the course without having to close the page you are on.

  • Don’t confuse online cultures.  An online course has the culture of a class but experiences it and delivers it through a Web browser. It superficially resembles, but it is not, the culture of social media. In that culture, text messages are short, people post short status updates, and usually are satisfied by saying the first thing that comes to their minds, often without revision. Accurate grammar, spelling and punctuation are often unimportant. Our culture is not that culture even though it looks like it on the screen.  Our culture is online academia. Don’t make the mistake of confusing an online class with social media.

If you have tips about how to survive and succeed in an online course, please share with the class.

For several decades I have conducted writing workshops of all kinds, and for 14 years I have taught writing on the faculty of Indiana University Southeast. Now I have decided to give back for these opportunities by making my lessons available online. I hope you enjoy this lesson, and the other lessons here on my writing Web site, You may download and use any lesson here free of charge, provided you give credit as: © Copyright Michael Jackman. All Rights Reserved.

Although the lessons are free of charge, please help support all my work in writing and maintaining this site through a small contribution using the PayPal link on the top right of this post. Thank you for your support! – Michael

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