Be sure your technology is ready to go!
Before we look at the skills you’ll need to be successful in an online class or in an online program, let’s look at your computer.
BlackBoard is the most common Learning Management System (LMS) used by online instructors at the University of Maine (some other favorites are Moodle and Adobe Connect). There is a practice course available as well as information on the Technical Support page. For more advanced information, check on YouTube. Take advantage of these resources before you get too swamped with work. The week prior to classes is a good time to get prepared by understanding the technology and making certain that you feel comfortable.
Click here to test your Internet browser to make sure that you’ve got all of the plugins that you need and that things are up to date.
UPDATE YOUR COMPUTER. If you’re not sure how to update the drivers and the software that you have, ask! Take it to a professional and have them show you. Call technical support and see if they can help you or contact the manufacturer and see what options are available. There are also update programs available on your system. Get to know how this works. It can save you hours of troubleshooting later!
Consider these Advantages to Online Learning:
- FLEXIBILITY – Learning through online delivery methods mean that you can take courses from anywhere and at any time. You have the freedom to learn and study at a pace that is right for you and your life.
- TECHNOLOGY SKILLS – As you learn the course content, you’re also learning how to master technology that may be new to you. This will give you the skills that you’ll need in your professional career. The technologies may be different but it will give you a sense of comfort in knowing HOW to learn new technologies.
- TIME MANAGEMENT SKILLS – You’ll also be learning how to manage your time, how to prioritize and how to manage your calendar. These are all valuable skills that you’ll use for the rest of your life.
- ONLINE INTERACTION AND TEAM BUILDING – In many online courses, participation is imperative and typically a good percentage of your instructor’s assessment. The skills you gain in thinking critically and creatively about your responses and the impact that they might have on your peers (especially in team environments) will give you valuable skills for working with others professionally. Many classes have discussion forums and open areas where you will post your homework and where you will have to respond to your classmates’ work. This gives you the opportunity to learn from your classmates and experience the course work through many different perspectives.
Be conscious of Common Pitfalls:
- TECHNOLOGY REQUIREMENTS – You must have access and knowledge of varied technology. If you’re not comfortable working on a computer, you might find it difficult to take an online course. You have to be prepared for glitches in the system and know how to manage them without getting frustrated and impatient. There are resources available to you through Technical Support but if something happens to your system, you must be prepared to make allowances and quickly. You may have to work at the library, on a friend’s computer or make arrangements to replace yours. This can be frustrating in the middle of a semester and can be a distraction from your work. It’s best to come up with a plan BEFORE you need it.
- ISOLATION – Many online students feel isolated when they begin online learning. If you are used to a traditional learning environment, you may have feelings of “being out there all alone”. This is why participation is imperative to your success. Forming relationships with your instructor and your peers can give you a sense of connection to the material and to your classmates.
- FACULTY SUPPORT – Many times, instructors cannot provide the same instantaneous support in their online classes that they can in traditional classrooms. Most faculty will provide a timeframe in which you can expect feedback and support for issues that you may be having. The key is to ask your instructors and, if appropriate, your classmates early. If you’re having difficulty with an assignment, ask BEFORE the due date. If there is a forum provided for these sorts of questions, post your question there. It could be that others have or have had the same issue and found clarification. Your classmates can be a great resource for you!
- SUPPORT SERVICES – At UMaine Online, we’re committed to making the same support services available to you that our traditional students enjoy but because online learning is a relatively new practice, we rely on you and your feedback to make certain that we’re providing you with the support that you need to be successful. BE VOCAL ABOUT WHAT YOU NEED!
Before Your Course Starts (At least one week prior)
- KNOW WHAT YOU’RE IN FOR – Take a look at the course requirements as soon as you have access to them. Check the technological requirements and see if you’re familiar with the programs and whether or not you’re ready to learn any new ones. Look at the syllabus and decide if you’re ready to handle the workload with your other commitments. You want to make sure that you are prepared to handle the work that is required before you start the course. Better to know ahead of time and drop the class before it starts to avoid an “F” or a “W” on your record.
- GET SUPPORT FROM FAMILY AND FRIENDS – Let people know that you’re embarking on an online program and share your learning schedule so that they know and understand that there will be times that you aren’t available even though you’re working from home. Often times, people assume that because you are home you are available. It’s good to let them know in advance that there will be times that this isn’t the case. Schedule time with them around your learning times.
- OBTAIN ANY REQUIRED TEXTS – If there are required textbooks or other material, make sure to order them early so that you don’t start off behind. The bookstore has an excellent website that can even help you make sure that you’re getting the best price! You can use their easy-to-navigate ordering system to make sure that you get the RIGHT books for your course
- SET UP YOUR CALENDAR – No matter what sort of calendar system you choose, post your assignments in your calendar for the whole semester if possible. Most syllabi will have due dates listed for your regular homework assignments and any projects or exams. If you’re using an electronic version, (such as Google calendar) set up notifications for a few days before the due date so that you will have time to ask any questions that you might have.
- FACULTY AND SUPPORT CONTACT INFORMATION – Make note of your instructor’s preferred method of contact. This will ensure that you are communicating through a means that they are checking. Nothing worse than realizing you’ve been sending questions to the wrong email!
- GET TO KNOW THE COURSE STRUCTURE AND THE PLATFORM – If you’re using Blackboard, navigate through the course. Figure out how it’s set up and where all of the course components are. Your instructor should provide much of the information to you but it’s always a good idea to make sure that you know where the assignments will be posted, how and where you are to respond and where you can find feedback. Much of this will be apparent but if you have questions, ASK! If there is a forum set up for questions, use it. Others may have the same questions and you may even find answers there if other students are using it. If others aren’t be the first!! It encourages communication, collaboration and creates an online community of your classmates.
- INTRODUCE YOURSELF – To your classmates and to your instructor. Let people know if you are a novice to online learning and you may get some useful tips and tricks. Most online classes incorporate this into the discussions. It’s a good way to connect to your classmates and form a community. Opening that door will make it easier for others to approach you as well.
During the Course:
- PARTICIPATE! PARTICIPATE! PARTICIPATE! This can’t be stressed highly enough. Regular participation in your course not only keeps you on track with your motivation, it also gives you an opportunity to connect with classmates and your instructor. Your classmates bring a variety of experiences and skill sets to the class that may help you along the way. Also, if there are team exercises, it helps you to develop good solid relationships. So jump right in there and be a part of the online community of your class!
- THINK THROUGH YOUR RESPONSES TO OTHER STUDENTS – It’s important to create a safe and supportive environment for everyone in your course. Being polite and respectful of differing views creates a positive environment that allows everyone to express their thoughts and opinions and to feel that they are valued. Instead of outwardly “disagreeing” with someone, express your difference “from another perspective”. Try to build on their ideas without being confrontational or derogatory. Proofread your responses before you post them and remember that words can be misunderstood without the facial expressions that often accompany them in a face-to-face meeting. It’s easy to say things that we might not if we were in the same space with someone. Be careful of your wording. If you aren’t certain, save the draft and give it a little time before you post. You might find a better way to share your thoughts.
- SPEAK UP IF YOU’RE HAVING PROBLEMS – Technical difficulties, misunderstandings about the assignment and due dates are not good excuses for missing an assignment due date and falling behind. It’s important that you contact the instructor for clarification before the due date. Talk to your classmates as well to see if they can help you figure it out. For technical difficulties, get in touch with Technical Support at the first sign of trouble. No one can help you if they don’t know that there’s an issue. You have to be responsible for your success.
- ACCEPT THAT YOU MIGHT FEEL A LITTLE OVERWHELMED DURING YOUR FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH ONLINE LEARNING. It takes time to learn how to do new things. You’re going to be learning a new system, learning how to navigate and how to communicate with others in an online environment. You’ll find that your confidence will increase the further along you go. Soon you’ll devise a system for yourself that works for you and will help you achieve your goals. Keep yourself motivated by remembering that everyone goes through a period of adjustment. If you make certain that you’ve followed all of the recommendations, you’re going to be ahead of the game.
- TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE RESOURCES AVAILABLE TO YOU – The library has excellent resources for online students. Get to know what those are. If you’re worried about tutoring, find those resources early. The Technical Support team is always happy to help when they can. Your classmates can also be a strong resource for you and, of course, your instructor. They want you to succeed so contact them with any fears you might have.
- TAKE THE COURSE/PROGRAM SERIOUSLY – Many students think that an online class is “easier” or takes less time. These are myths. Your instructor has designed a course as rigorous, or more so than those taught in a traditional setting. These courses are held to the same standards as any other offered through the University of Maine and we are proud to present the same high quality education to our online learners as our traditional students.
- DESIGN A GOOD STUDY SPACE – Don’t discount the importance of this. The more comfortable you feel as you’re working, the better your performance will be. Choose a space that is free of too many distractions and schedule your work time during periods of fewer disruptions. It doesn’t make sense to try and work during a dinner hour, for example, if your space will be interrupted.
- SET A SCHEDULE THAT YOU CAN STICK TO – This is where calendaring really pays off. Schedule time to work. Set aside a time every day to log in to the class and see if there is anything new that you need to be aware of. Schedule the days/hours that you will do your homework and read the material (if applicable). Factor in things like your projects that are in addition to your regular assignments so that they don’t creep up on you unexpectedly. Put all of this in your calendar and STICK TO IT just as you would a face-to-face class. Include your other responsibilities in your calendar so that your course work becomes a part of your schedule and not a separate entity. Mastering your schedule gives you a lot more freedom to plan for events that you don’t want to miss. This is the very BEST part of being an online learner. You’re not committed to be in a classroom at structured and inflexible times. You set the times for yourself, which gives you more freedom, but it also means more responsibility for making sure that you complete your assignments on time.
- DEVELOP GOOD STUDY SKILLS – Many students have no idea how to study or how to take a course. There are several sites devoted to helping you develop good study skills. Research some sites and determine which best suits your learning style. If a course is offered in your program to enhance your skills, take it. This skill will pay off for you throughout your online program.
- LEARN YOUR INSTRUCTOR’S TEACHING STYLE AND ADJUST ACCORDINGLY – Just as students have different learning styles, instructors have varying teaching styles. Whether you’re in a classroom or online, you’ll get to know your instructor’s style and, in some cases, you’ll have to adjust your style accordingly. For example, if you prefer several smaller lecture videos but your instructor posts a 90-minute video, break it down into smaller chunks. Make sure that you allow time to finish the lecture in a timely manner but break it down into sections that might make sense in your notes. The same applies with reading materials. If you lose your train of comprehension, mark your spot and do something else. Go back to it when you need a break from something else. The important thing is that you understand the material and take adequate and valuable notes. Budget your time around these “chunks” so that you don’t get behind in your work.
- ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE! – One thing that many online students find through online learning is that they are more confident in an online environment. It might be easier for them to express their ideas and to accept feedback. Building your online persona – avatar – can be an exciting way to learn new things about yourself and about the way you learn and interact. Embrace these new ideas and have fun with the classes that you take! It was your desire to learn and to improve your career or your understanding of a new topic that brought you here. Make sure you take advantage of that opportunity! Don’t forget that your success is our success. We are committed to making sure that your experience with UMaine Online is a good and productive one! HAVE FUN!