Why I Took an Online Class

keyboard and compassA lot of people ask me why I decided to take an online class.

After all, I’m a full-time undergraduate student, and I live on campus. It would be easy for me to take the traditional on-campus section of POLI 101: State and Local Government. In fact, I was signed up for it until a couple weeks before the semester started. I had several friends who were enrolled in that section with me, and I had even bought my textbook. However, I ultimately decided to switch my on-campus section of the class to the online version over the summer, and I am very happy with my decision.

Here are a few reasons why:

1. Flexibility

Taking a class online gives me the priceless power of flexibility. I am not bound to learning course content only on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10:00 to 10:5o. The power to choose when I learn the material means I can pick a time when I am mentally prepared and most engaged. Admittedly, there are times when I have to force myself to go to a lecture class only to find myself not fully alert and paying attention. It is always  frustrating to realize that I spent nearly an hour in class without really absorbing the information.

I also enjoy the flexibility of online classes because I feel that I am in better control of my schedule. I think I can safely call myself a busy person. I write for the student newspaper. I’m an RA. I play a few intramural sports. Plus, I’m taking 18 credit hours this semester to fit in my double major. By taking one of my classes online, I have much more freedom with my schedule and greatly decreased stress levels. I can “go to class” at 9:30 at night or 7:00 in the morning if I need to. Ultimately, the ability to choose when I work on my POLI 101 course work has allowed me to manage all of my responsibilities and commitments this semester.

2. Increased Participation

One of my least favorite things about on-campus classes are the large lectures. I tend to feel lost in the crowd when I’m sitting in a lecture hall with hundreds of other students. My original POLI 101 class was also supposed to be a large lecture class. I thrive in a smaller class atmosphere based on conversation. For me, it’s hard to stay attentive and really grasp the information if I have to sit and listen to the professor lecture for an hour.

Frequent discussion of course material helps me learn and see how course concepts apply to the real world. In my online section of POLI 101, I learn the information through readings and posts my professor uploads. Online, I have the time to take in the information and dissect it. Then, I can apply the information  in the required discussion board posts on Sakai. I prefer the engagement of the online class format more than the passive format of an on-campus lecture.

3. Unique Perspectives 

The biggest thing I’ve gained from taking the online version of POLI 101 is the diverse perspectives of my classmates. Often in a traditional lecture class, only the most outspoken students speak.  The very interactive aspect of using discussion board posts in my online class means that I’ve gotten the unique opportunity to hear the opinions of all my classmates. I would never have this opportunity in a traditional lecture format. I get to read their thoughts and perspectives on what we’ve learned in class, which in turn challenges my own opinions and ensures that I’ve mastered the material myself. Overall, I think the ability for every classmate to post their opinions has greatly enhanced my online learning experience.

 

Although cliche, I think I can liken my decision to take an online class to the famous Robert Frost Poem, “The Road Not Taken.”

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I-

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

 

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Tips For Online Learners

Online classes can be daunting for people who’ve never taken them before. Some people are successful at integrating them into their busy schedules, but some struggle to find any time to do the work. That’s why I put together the following tips to help out anyone who is hesitant about taking classes online.

1. Don’t sit on your computer for too long. Do not attempt to slog through all the course material at once. It’ll be too much and you risk your mind drifting off into cyberspace, watching YouTube and checking Facebook.

2. Seriously, don’t procrastinate. Speaking of drifting off, I think procrastination is life’s greatest undo-er. If you put your classwork off until tomorrow, you may never finish it at all! I have articulated my own experiences regarding procrastination on this blog before, and I feel the propensity to procrastinate only gets worse when you’re in front of your computer during online classes. Do yourself a favor and treat the class as you would a physical one – finish your homework, quizzes, and tests by the scheduled deadlines. In fact, I’d like to propose calling online classes “don’t procrastinate classes” – it’s that important!

3. Utilize technology. Since you won’t have in-person class reminders, look at your syllabus the very first day and save the important dates and times to your cell phone.

4. Communicate with your professor. Establish a working relationship with your professor and figure out how best to communicate with them. Be sure to ask them questions during class, just as you would if you were in a classroom. If you are on or near campus, go talk to them. Reaching out can go a long way toward having a successful online class experience.

5. Maintain a consistent online presence. Even though you’re not going to physical classes, your internet presence can tell your peers and instructors a lot about you, so it’s important you maintain a consistent online presence!

6. The discussion forum does not have a save button. This is more of a personal pet peeve than anything, but the Sakai discussion forums do not have a save button. If you attempt to open a new tab, you may be redirected to another page, thus eliminating what precious work you’ve done so far. If you must, copy and paste the material or URL into another tab to be safe, but it’s wise to complete a comment in one sitting.

 

No Save Button photo DiscussionForum_zpse36da22f.jpg
7. Blended courses are awesome. This isn’t exactly a tip, but one of the best things about the Friday Center is the blended classes that are both online and in the physical classroom. Take one of these if you get the chance – it has the best of both worlds.

I hope that these seven lucky tips will help. I wish you all the best of luck!

Online Class Myths

unicorn“An online class? This should be a piece of cake!” If this is you, stop. Just because a class is on the internet, doesn’t mean it’s easy. The misconception that online classes are easier than physical classes is just one of the many myths about online classes I’m going to bust today.

1. Online classes are easier. Like I said, they are definitely not easier. Take my Phil 155 online class for example. I took the physical classroom version of it and failed. So I took the online class thinking it would be a piece of cake. It wasn’t. All of the same material was covered online, but I didn’t have the professor physically there to explain the course material three times a week. Online classes are just as tough as physical ones.

2. Online classes are less time-intensive. This, of course, depends on the individual and how much time they decide to spend studying and doing coursework, just like physical classes. However, you’ll be given just as many assignments and readings as you might expect in a physical class, so you should be prepared to do the work.

3. Due dates aren’t real. Just because your professor hasn’t messaged you about your homework doesn’t mean it’s okay to slip it in late. Again, this is college we’re talking about, so don’t expect anyone to hold your hand.

4. All online classes have the same structure. Just like physical classes, online classes vary a lot in structure. The grading, pacing, and even the online platforms can be completely different.

5. You’re alone.  In truth, there are many ways you can interact with your classmates and professors. Online classes usually incorporate discussion forums and group projects, and your professors are available to answer your questions.

There you go! I hope I smashed those ridiculous myths to pieces. I hope this will convince all of you to take online classes just as seriously as regular classes from here on forward.

Final Exam Blues: Phil 105 Final Push and Reflection!

To be able to cross this semester’s finish line, I had to take a final exam for Phil 105 spanning three hours. It encompassed all the material we were taught over the semester. Preparing for this final online class exam was different than preparing for a regular exam in a classroom. Instead of having paper resources, virtually all of the resources available were from Sakai.

 photo finalexams_zpse2ffe2a0.jpgThe best resource I found to prepare for this exam was my homework from the course of the semester. First, I noted the questions that I answered incorrectly and identified the correct answer. Secondly, I also noted the kind of questions that I got right. Just because I answered these questions correctly the first time did not mean I could give the correct answer the second time around. Sometimes, I had trouble understanding why I got the answer right. Often, I felt this way on questions that could have had multiple answers, but may have had only one “best answer”. Thirdly, I combined my homework notes from the semester into one huge composite document in chronological order, and reviewed them.

I also reviewed the quizzes from the semester because I thought that the material in the quizzes represented what the test would be like. As I reviewed the questions, I covered up the answer choices and tried to answer them again. As with the homework, I paid special attention to the questions I answered incorrectly, and identified the reasons for my mistakes in my notes (I kept these notes separate from the homework questions).

Test time was pretty hectic.  In many ways, it reminded me taking AP exams as a high school student. Once it was over, I breathed a sigh of relief because at that moment, the entire semester was over.

Phil 105 was a very rewarding class for me. It introduced me to many different concepts regarding logic that I’ve never thought about before. More importantly, it imbued me with an inquisitive mind that allowed me to dissect common arguments. I encourage those of you with brave souls to delve into this class with a passion! And for those of you with great summer plans, enjoy them until the next semester!

Five Lessons I Learned from this Semester’s Online Classes

As the sun rises on summer break, I’d like to look back at this past semester as one that will prepare me for future online classes. Along with learning came mistakes here and there, and I’d like to share some tips so you can perform better in your own online classes. Here are five lessons I’ve garnered from this semester:

1. Pick a subject you are genuinely interested in. I can’t stress this one enough. Taking online classes for a requirement is sometimes a necessary evil, but given the choice, pick something you are interested in. I think this is one of the most essential ingredients for success, especially in an online class. Having interest in a class is even more important because online classes aren’t classroom classes; you don’t get the immersion from being there with your classmates and the professor. Since many of the course materials are self-paced, you’ll need to motivate yourself to perform up to snuff, especially if you have a heavy schedule. Personally, Phil 105: Critical Thinking was hard for me to get into at first. I thought it was a useful class to take, but I didn’t like logic.  After struggling a little bit, I eventually worked my way through it. On the other hand, I liked my COMP 380 class very much, and I enjoyed participating in the forums.

2. Encourage communications between group members. COMP 380 was one of those classes where 50 percent of the class grades depended on the results from group projects. This structure nearly sank my grade like a heavy anchor, but I steadied it by doing well in my individual projects. If you are in a class where much of the grade hinges on successful completion of group projects, it is crucial to meet with your group and form a consistent communication link through means like Google Docs. In addition, if you are stuck with a group that seems lethargic, make it your responsibility to rally the group around the project. Personally, I worked with group members who genuinely cared about the results and others who couldn’t care less. While I worked hard, I feel that I didn’t do enough to galvanize some of them into action.

3. Be sure to do well on individual projects. Like I briefly mentioned above, if there are any classes with group and individual projects, it’s strategically crucial to do well in the individual projects and homework assignments because these are the ones that you have the most power over. Since you can control your own quality, you should lose as little points as possible on these. If I didn’t work really hard on my individual projects, I wouldn’t have recovered from my group project fiasco. Because of this, I advise all of you to be extra cautious when taking online classes that require group collaboration.

4. Take advantage of online classes’ regular structure. Many online classes have a very regular schedule structured so that there are certain weekly requirements that are all laid out.  The best way to approach an online class is to follow the class’ regimented guidelines. Personally, I didn’t do such a hot job sticking to those guidelines and as a result, I found myself covering for it on occasion.

5. Professors are actually pretty accessible. Throughout my two-class tenure, I was am photo engineering-professor-meme-generator-has-office-hours-door-is-locked-and-lights-are-off-9c197bjpg_zps2a3d1905.pngazed by how fast the professors responded to my emails and my discussion forums. They provide instant insight and are very important allies when you want to report errors. I made the mistake of believing that my professors were just casually looking over the classes, so I didn’t think of visiting them to ask my questions. Instead I participated in the discussion forums, email and VoiceThreads. Regardless, asking them questions is just as important a learning component as the online class experience itself. Comp 380 and Phil 105 are classes that don’t traditionally have too many students, so you can go pay the professors a visit with questions or concerns.

It is my hope that these five pointers provide good advice for those involved in online classes through the Friday Center.  And I hope all of you go out and bathe yourselves in the summer sun!

 

Organization: A Possible Feat for Even the Worst of Procrastinators

Planner

Photo credit: stirwise on Flickr.

Hello all.

It’s been a while, but that’s because I’m a horrible procrastinator that lets work pile up to roughly the size of a hobbit. For those of you who are not familiar with the lovely world of Tolkien, get acquainted over the summer, but not before you finish your classes. As a procrastinator, I feel the pain of anyone who has fallen to the terrible fate of disorganization. Disorganization can make for a hard life when assignments are being thrown at you left and right and everyone and their mother seems to be bringing you more work by the wheelbarrow. Disorganization only blows into full bloom during one week every year: Finals Week. Yes, the week we all dread because you’re bound to forget about that one paper that’s due for that one class you go to once every month, or you’ll forget to study that one section for that one final because you were in a hurry, right?

Wrong. Getting organized for finals doesn’t have to be a hassle. To help you out, ye of oh-so-little faith, I have a handy ORGANIZED list for you.

1) Grab a planner

Planners can be ineffective if you don’t use them frequently. They can just end up taking up space on your already crowded desk full of half done papers (I speak from experience). However, if you grab something less daunting and very useful like maybe a prepared one-week planning sheet (ideally chock-full of useful formulas and equations for finals in a packet form), it can be worth carrying it around just in case. If your schools don’t offer this, then your old pal Google can help you find one. Read more ›

Reasons Why Your Next Class Should Be an Online Class

Thumbs up

Photo credit: basch99 on Photobucket.Note: the above person is not me

Online classes are unique experiences. They might not have the social aspect that in-person classrooms provide, but sometimes (especially with blended courses) they will provide just the right mix of real-life experience and the flexibility of online classes.

1. They are Flexible: Unlike regular classes, your homework assignments in online classes will generally be due by the end of a week period, so you can carve out your own time to do the work. Sometimes online classes will allow you to study ahead so that you can set aside time for other classes!

2. You can do group projects and interact with other students: Even online, it’s possible to join a group and work on a project together. This way, you’re getting some social interaction and collaborating with other students.

3. Meeting new people: For those of you who are shy, online classes allow you to communicate with your classmates through discussion forums. Online classes are civil places where you can communicate with others without any awkwardness. Read more ›

Online Classes: The Conclusion

There Was A Day In Summer

Photo credit: drp on Flickr.

You’ve made it. You overcame the daunting quizzes and tests without a physical body hovering over you. You have leaped over the intimidating hurdle of talking to faceless people just for a participation grade. You have even surpassed the almost-impossible task of reading without anyone there pressing you to do it. So congratulations!

Online classes can be hard to conquer and can be a pain for those who don’t have the most self-discipline in the world. So, where do you go from here? Not only is summer vacation a thing, there’s still next semester (if you’re not a senior of course). Online classes can still serve as a great resource in your college career. Maybe you want to take a year abroad but don’t know any great universities to transfer to, or maybe the classes there are all taught in Japanese and you haven’t gotten your degree in the language yet. Online classes could help you stay connected to your schoolwork without putting a strain on what outside activities you can enjoy.

Read more ›

A Nice, Relaxing Finals Week (Really)

Well friends, finals week has arrived. And although we are all ready for summer breezes and ice cold lemonade, that fantasy must be put on hold for a bigger reality. This is the week all your previously stored knowledge is put to the test.

However, don’t let that alarm you. Finals week can also be a time for you to relax. Don’t get me wrong—definitely make sure to get your studying in. Just don’t overexert yourself. Sleep is very important, and it can be the difference between acing a test and drooling on the one you were just handed. Also, make sure to eat. Finals is not the best time to try out that new diet plan or get so stressed that food seems like a waste of time. On the contrary, food is fuel that will help you push through your stress and come out victorious when the final exams rear their ugly heads.

So study hard, eat hearty, catch some Z’s (not during the exam of course) and get ready for the awesome summer you have been daydreaming about.

The Logic of Blended Learning, Part 3: Saying Goodbye

April 21 was the day I said goodbye to my scruffy professor and my classmates with whom I shared this academic journey. On that day, I trekked to the classroom, my heart weary as I searched for my seat in the classroom. We had just completed our last homework assignment, so we all came into the classroom with questions. Usually, our sessions would end with some bizarre happenings or a unique class experience, but such excitement dampened because we knew it was the last time we would meet together like this.

We began our review of our final unit, dealing with logical fallacies. This was a very interesting topic because it introduced bad logic in a very obvious way. In other words, it was a formal course in teaching us how to recognize some really faulty thinking. However, it also occurred to us that often when we get into arguments with people, we often forget some basic logic and we are caught in many of these logic traps. By bravely pointing out that the emperor has no clothes, we are able to recognize the faulty logic.

Read more ›

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