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Logging in to online learning

By Hayley Toivanen, 4th-year English major

I am not an online person. I organize my calendar with an old-fashioned agenda. I print off emails with important information. I bring pens and notebooks to class. I watch my printer ink decline as I print off PDF-readings, but it’s worth having a hard copy to mark-up instead of skimming the text, reading from a screen.

For the reasons above, I have tried to avoid taking online courses. But this semester, my last at Queen’s, I decided to try an online course through the Writing Centre as an elective. Interested in a future career in editing, I have found that taking online courses is a common route to obtaining a certificate in publishing. Online courses offered through distance studies are useful in directing your academic skills towards a career field, or maybe you need to pick up pre-requisites for another program you are applying to. Learning online is therefore a worthwhile skill to learn.

Furthermore, first-year courses at Queen’s are moving in the direction of blended learning, decreasing time spend in the classroom to replace lectures with more online work. You might be in one of these classes, or an online course in the future. Here are some tips to help you stay on top of these courses and make online learning work for you:

1. Choose blocks of time on specific days that you will dedicate to that course. Preferably pick a day earlier in the week, even if it’s just to check in and get organized, so you won’t miss any due dates. Then, dedicate another day to complete the material required of you for that week. For example, on Mondays you log in to the course and plan out what you will do for the week ahead. On Wednesdays, you have fewer in-class lectures, so block off time to complete the online readings, post comments, or complete the online quiz.

2. Create a system of reminders that works for you. It is easy to miss due dates for an online course if you aren’t always logging in to the course webpage. The professor is also not likely going to remind you what assignment is due next. Aware that I tend to avoid logging in to all things online, I have written all the due dates in my agenda. I have sticky-notes reminding me to get started on this activity, since I have to post at least two replies to the discussion by the end of the week. I write out “reply #1” and “reply #2” on my sticky-note to ensure I make two posts in order to earn full marks. I feel the satisfaction of crossing out, or crumpling up, these reminders as I complete the tasks.

3. Make the course work for your learning preferences, even if it is online. Since I like hard-copy checklists, I printed out the course syllabus and check off the assignments and quizzes as I complete them. Print out notes or save them to your computer, so you have a copy to refer to when taking online quizzes. Several tabs open on your web-browser might be hard to manage when you have a limited time to complete a quiz, so I like to have my printed notes in front of me.

4. Connect with classmates and TAs. Because online courses are likely offered through distance studies, students from all different backgrounds are taking the course and are not necessarily on campus. Some of the people in my editing course had professional experience editing and wanted to polish their skills. Others were creative writers and wanted to learn how to edit. As an undergraduate student, I want to learn from their experiences, which are different from mine. People taking the course are at different stages in their education and careers, so making contacts online can help you learn more about the career field. Even if you’re not meeting in person, exchange emails. If the course offers a forum for peer-to-peer discussion, make use of it!

I hope these tips help you in tackling your online course. I was reluctant to log in to online learning, but I’ve managed to adjust many of the learning strategies I practice to the requirements of an online course. Use a weekly schedule to block off time you will spend to work on the online course. Print off the course syllabus to record all the due dates on a calendar. Post reminders to yourself in your agenda. Make use of the resources offered to you through the course, by connecting with other students and emailing your TAs to ask about their experiences related to the course or career field.

Photo courtesy of Blake Patterson under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.