Best Practices for Online Learners

While the basic skills are the same for any student, online courses demand special attention to these qualities: self-discipline, organization, communication, and comfort with computers. This area of the website has information and tips that can help you cultivate these skills, becoming aware of your strengths as well as where you have room to grow.


Are You Ready to Take An Online Course?

Online Survey image

The following assessment will help you to determine if an online course is right for you. By answering a few simple questions, you can determine whether an online learning environment will help you achieve your educational goals.


Self-Directed Learning

 Self-Directed Learning

Self-Directed Learning is all about you being in the driver's seat on your educational journey, and your self-motivation will largely determine your success as an online learner. Curb procrastination now by learning to integrate your studies into your schedule - school is not an "extra" thing but part of your everyday.

Go online to participate and engage with the course content daily, or at least every few days.

Be prepared to put in more TIME and ENERGY than you would in a traditional face-to-face course; the trade-off is being able to fit your study time and classroom participation into your schedule.


Get to Know Your Course

Maneuvering through an online course can be just as challenging as finding your way around a physical campus. Familiarize yourself with Blackboard's features by exploring all the tabs, bars, icons and buttons to discover their function and content. Take a tour!

In Blackboard, click on the Course Map link at the bottom of the Menu Bar. Click on the plus signs (+) next to the main folders to expand the folders and reveal subfolders and items.


Learning Styles

Understanding how you learn can foster good study habits and skills, which can help you to stay motivated and energized while in the online environment. What kind of learner are you? The VARK Learning Styles Assessment provides information to assist you in developing strategies to improve learning; as well as communicating, note taking and study skills. This assessment breaks down the styles and places them into specific categories. These are:

  • Visual
  • Aural
  • Read/Write
  • Kinesthetic
  • Multimodal

Take a guess at which style you fall under and then take the VARK Learning Styles Assessment.

The activities at this website can open up ideas for you: Self-Directed Learning


Organization

 Organization

Being organized means keeping files and other course materials in order, having good time management. Online, knowing how to organize things on a computer as well as using computer based calendaring can be highly useful.

File Management

Windows Based Computers:

  • File Management BasicsWindows File Management
  • File Organizational Tips: 9 Ideas for managing files and folders

Mac Computers:

  • Mac 101: Applications, files, and folders
  • Organize Your Mac's Folders with Labels
  • Smart Folders - Managing files on your Mac the smart way

Time Management

One of the most difficult challenges online learners face is the balancing act between their busy lives and the time required to adequately prepare for and participate in their online courses. To be most effective, you need to schedule at least three different types of time for your course:

  • Screen viewing time to read your course materials
  • Study time Course assignment
  • Project time

Since late assignments can result in loss of grade points, how you manage your time is crucial to course success. Additionally, if you have a problem with procrastination – sometimes described as “the thief of time” – you need to recognize it, admit it, and learn some ways to deal with it:

  • Read the syllabus and course schedule for your course. Add the title of each assignment and its due date to your calendar.
  • Use a calendar! If you use a software-based calendar or one associated with your e-mail program, enter your assignments and due dates there.
  • Remember to look at the Announcements section of your course frequently for any changes to assignments or due dates.
  • Review your time management schedule and your list of “to do” tasks daily. Many time management experts recommend that you do this as an early morning preview to determine what you must accomplish for that day, and then again as a late afternoon or evening review to check what you have done, what wasn't’t done, and what must be carried over to the next day.
  • As a weekly routine, review your performance every Saturday or a day that works for you. Make note of any ‘catch-up’ course work that you need to schedule for completion. Each Sunday, preview your course schedule and any instructor announcements to find out what study time, assignment time, or exam preparation time you must schedule during the coming week.

Websites on Time Management:


Communication

 Communication

The way you communicate is a reflection of who you are. Communicating in an online course requires the same thoughtfulness, respect and basic courtesy that you display in any social setting.

Imagine a typical f2f classroom, where your teacher is lecturing, and you and your classmates occasionally raise your hands to ask questions. You don't even have to speak in order for your teacher and classmates to know you're there - they can see you sitting at your desk. In the online class, you must participate in order for your teacher and classmates to know you're there.

In addition to the Discussion Board, your teacher may use many different methods of communication, such as email, chat, videoconferencing, as well as the telephone.


The Discussion Board

The most common "meeting place" in an online class is the Discussion Board. Here, instructors and students may ask a question, present an idea, or post an assignment, providing everyone the opportunity to respond. How many traditional classes have you been in that gave everyone an opportunity to respond to each idea, each question?

Here are some tips to help you communicate effectively in the online environment:

  • Take the time to review the thread or discussion to which you are replying. Stay focused on the initial topic posted in the forum.
  • Remember that humor and emotion expressed without the benefit of a friendly smile or gesture may be misinterpreted. Be very conscious of the way a remark may be interpreted.
  • Although the atmosphere in a classroom may be casual, remember that it is also a professional setting. Acronyms, emoticons and other communication shortcuts may not be appropriate, so use them sparingly.
  • Create your posts within a word processor so you can check grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Once you are satisfied with your message, copy and paste it into the discussion board. This can save you time online, protect you against sudden Internet failures in which you lose your work, and gives you a backup copy of all your messages.Review your response before submitting it to ensure you are communicating effectively and with courtesy.
  • Be diligent in helping to create a positive learning environment and community of online learners.
  • Contact your instructor immediately if you are experiencing problems with your course content, understanding of the material, assignments, or in adhering to deadlines.

Netiquette

As an online student, most of your communication with your instructor and fellow classmates will be through email, chat, and discussion boards where you should always be courteous and professional. Although you are physically invisible when you access your online courses, your language and online behavior is not. How you address and respond to your instructor and fellow classmates is an important consideration.

  • It is important that you treat your instructor and fellow classmates with respect as you would want to be treated. It is just as inappropriate in an online course to make jokes or offensive remarks about race, nationality, religion, sexual preference, physical condition, or communication skills as it is in a traditional classroom, the work place, or any place else.
  • Important to remember is that your remarks are visible, perhaps all semester, for your instructor and your fellow classmates to view and reflect on. Let rules of courtesy and netiquette be your guide as you interact with your online instructor and fellow classmates:
  • Follow all directions in your course syllabus, announcements, course documents and discussion boards to minimize any problems with your instructor and to avoid disrupting your own and others learning process.
  • Know the procedures that your instructor has published either in the course syllabus, announcements, or discussions boards to resolve any questions or conflicts.
  • If you have a problem with your instructor, or a fellow student, think before you compose an email, start a chat session, or make a telephone call to the person to discuss the problem. Be diplomatic. Be polite. Avoid argumentative words or a confrontational tone.
  • Use your word processor to write emails and discussion board postings and reread them before sending them to ensure that you are being courteous. If it is an email communication, place it in your Draft folder so you can go back to it later to reflect on your writing prior to sending.

Websites about Netiquette


Computer Skills

 Computer Skills

Since you're going to be using a computer to interface with the class, you have to be ready to use the machine to the best of your ability. This includes using the operating system well and becoming familiar with Blackboard's various functions.

You should also be comfortable literally! Learn about correct posture and the ergonomics of enjoying working on a computer.


Common Computer Issues

At some time in your online course, you may experience problems with your computer or with application software like Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. These moments of frustration can be minimized if you know ahead of time where to look for help.

Here are a few common steps for identifying and fixing computer problems:

  • Save what you are working on (if possible) and reboot your computer (shut it down.) Attempt the same function that caused your problem. Often, rebooting your computer will clear up the problem.
  • Find and use the operating system or application software specific Help function. You can usually do this quickly by pressing the “F1” key on your keyboard.
  • Read the manual that came with your computer or software, starting in the manual’s index to locate relevant information.
  • Use a search engine to find Internet resources that may help you solve the problem.
  • Look for help from a knowledgeable family member, friend, or fellow student.
  • For hardware problems that cannot be solved using the steps above, consider contacting the company that you purchased your computer from or contact a computer repair company in your vicinity.
  • For software problems, consider calling the developer of your software product.

Ergonomics

Extensive use of a computer can cause some short-term physical problems or possibly even long-term difficulties ranging from stress to wrist damage, fatigue, shoulder pain, and muscle tenseness. The medical term for some of these physical problems is repetitive strain injury (RSI). You can lessen the stress and its related problems by making some changes in your workspace and in your viewing posture and habits.

Review the “Personal Workstation Checklist” distributed by Ergonomics@Work, University of California at Berkeley. Once you are finished assessing your chair, work surface/keyboard, monitor, workstation accessories, and work habits based on the personal workstation checklist, please close the browser by selecting the "X" in the corner. Implement as many of the suggestions provided as you can. At the very least, pay close attention to the following suggestions:

  • Adjust your monitor viewing angle so it is at a comfortable angle for minimizing stress.
  • Adjust your chair for the best seat and back position, and adjust its height so that you are viewing the monitor at a comfortable angle.
  • Take a break every 20 minutes. Get out of your chair and move around. Gently stretch your back, neck, hands, and wrists.
  • If you tend to forget how long you are at your computer due to concentrating on your work, set a timer to remind you to get out of your chair for a short break.

Screen viewing is more vision intensive than reading textbooks and may cause tension, eye fatigue, or stress resulting in tired, sore, burning, itching, watery, or dry eyes. In extreme cases, you may experience blurred or double vision or an increased sensitivity to bright lights. These vision conditions, when caused by prolonged computer use, have been referred to as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS).

  • Setup a work environment that makes for good screen viewing. Pay attention to the amount of light you have and angle of viewing. Your monitor should be placed so that windows to the outside are not behind the screen or behind you. You will strain your eye muscles less if you place your monitor slightly below your eye level. If you use a document holder, position it at the same height as your screen. Indirect or reflected light is best for screen viewing. Overhead florescent light is the least desirable type of lighting since its flickering may affect your peripheral vision.
  • Have an eye exam to determine if you might have any problems in reading text on your monitor. During the exam, let your doctor know how much time you are or will be spending at your computer and ask about special prescription glasses for computer use. If you find that you need eyeglasses, get a pair that is specially designed to read text at a distance of 18 to 28 inches away.
  • Adjust the brightness and contrast on your monitor. Controls to do this are usually located at the bottom of you monitor. Consult your monitor manual for directions.
  • If you still have a glare on your screen, consider using an anti-glare filter. If you have any problems reading text on your monitor, increase the font size. You can do this in Microsoft Word, for example, by selecting “View” on the Toolbar, and then clicking on “Zoom” to see at what size percentage your screen is set. Normally it will be set at 100%. Change it to 200% for increased font size so that you can read the text easily. While you are in the Zoom mode, notice that you can also change page or text width and view a whole page or many pages. The Zoom mode offers a preview of any change that you might select.
  • In Mozilla Firefox, for example, click "View" on the toolbar, then click on "Zoom." Zoom In and Out to find a more comfortable font size.
  • Consult your eye care professional if you experience any unusual eye strain, pain, or headaches.