Orientation to Online Learning
The Online Classroom
For many learners and instructors, the online world represents an alien learning environment. Most of you have been learning in the face-to-face classroom for a very long time and, as such, are very familiar with its particular structure. When you walk into the face-to-face classroom, you know to sit in one of the desks facing the board. You wait until the instructor arrives, sometimes chatting to other students. Occasionally, you may participate in group or class discussions by raising your hand; however, the constraints of space and time in addition to the instructor's presence at the front of the course neatly define the learning space.
Now, imagine that you can enter the classroom at any time day or night; however, there is never anyone else in the room and the only communication that occurs happens by writing on the board. When you enter the room, you can read messages that others have left on the board and leave your own messages. The course material exists in a pile for you to pick up and read. This second scenario remains analogous to the online environment and it can be very confusing for learners who have only experienced the face-to-face classroom.
It's our hope that this short, self-paced online course will help to eliminate some of this confusion. This module, in particular, will explore additional features of the online course environment at CSN and will introduce you to some of the skills needed to succeed in that environment.
Student & Instructor Expectations
How much time should I expect to spend per week on my online course?
It is a common misperception that online courses take less time per week than face-to-face courses. In actuality, online courses often require a substantial time commitment. Although the amount of time required for an online course varies, it's a good rule of thumb to allocate about 10 to 12 hours per week per online course. You should expect the following from your online course:
- The amount of homework required in an online course will be roughly the same as that assigned in a face-to-face course.
- Most online courses will ask that you spend time participating in discussions with the instructor and other learners. These discussions will play a central role in your learning experience.
- You may be asked to play an active role in group or team activities. This will involve co-ordinating and working with several other learners who may be dispersed across different time zones.
Can I take the course at my own pace?
Some online courses are self-paced, meaning that learners can complete the materials on their own schedule as long as they are finished by the conclusion of the semester. However, most online courses will be facilitated by an instructor and require that learners adhere to a course schedule for readings, assignments, and discussions with other learners. It will be important for your success to adhere to this schedule so you can contribute to discussions and group projects in meaningful ways. Your presence in the course will only be apparent if you participate!
Do I need to come to campus for anything?
Whether you need to come to campus is up to the instructor. You may be required to attend an off-campus event (such as attending a musical performance or an in-class presentation or testing at a testing center). Your instructor should give you notice of these events in the syllabus or other course materials. Please go to the library website to learn of online library services available for distance education students.
Do I need books for a distance education course?
Instructors generally require students to use textbooks for their distance education classes. Refer to the instructor's Course Information Cards for information.
How will I communicate with the instructor during the course?
Most instructors can be contacted through email in the course and may answer questions in the discussion forum. In order to better communicate with learners, some instructors may even create a Questions and Answers topic within the discussion forum. Your instructor will advise you about their preferred mode of communication in the course syllabus. Some instructors will give you an outside email address or telephone contact to use in emergencies.
How will I turn in assignments and receive grades? Will my instructor accept late assignments?
Your instructor will let you know how they expect you to turn in assignments and receive grades in the syllabus. Most course management systems have tools for such items.
Your instructor's policy for late work will appear in the syllabus; this should also outline the timeframe for when you can expect work to be graded or receive an email response from your instructor. For instance, your instructor may state that he or she will return email within 48 hours except on weekends and will grade assignments within seven business days.
The Successful Online Learner
Now that you have learned some of what you can expect during an online course, you might be wondering how you can succeed in the online course environment. Much has been written about the characteristics that make some learners successful. The list below represents a compilation of the most common features of successful online learners and some of the best practices that can lead to success (Illinois Online Network, 2002).
The successful online learner should:
Possess self-motivation and self-discipline: Since the online environment lacks much of the structure present in the face-to-face classroom, learners must exercise real commitment when adhering to deadlines.
Be proficient with time management: Frequently, learners decide to take online courses because they do not have the time to attend class in person. To be successful online, learners must carve out time from family and work commitments to spend on their studies. The following links provide additional information on time management:
- What your mother never told you about college - A list of comments and insights from current and former students from Middle Tennessee State University.
Meet technical requirements: Most programs list technical requirements for taking a course; these usually include modem and hardware requirements. Adhering to these requirements will prevent computer difficulties later in the course.
Be able to communicate through writing: Moving from the face-to-face classroom to the online environment involves a corresponding transition from the spoken to the written word. Online learners should be fairly comfortable expressing themselves in writing. Many online courses also require a great deal of reading in the course site. The following links will give you additional information about writing and reading skills.
- Study Guides and Strategies - A large collection of tips on preparing for tests, writing papers, and reading compiled by Joe Landsberger.
- Writing and Grammar - A guide of resources on topics ranging from grammar to constructing papers from the College of Southern Nevada English Department.
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