HOW TO SURVIVE IN AN ONLINE CLASS: GUIDELINES FOR STUDENTS
The following guideline or list of tips is addressed to students who attend a face-to-face, one-hour workshop that I run at the beginning of every semester. These tips are aimed at students who have already registered for courses that are either wholly or partially online. I'm usually able to complete this presentation within 50 minutes, allowing at least 10 minutes for question and answer.
TO THE STUDENT
2. LOGON FREQUENTLY. Log on as often as you can, preferably twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening -- seven days a week. If this isn't possible, then log on once a day during the week and once over the weekend. Create a workable logon schedule, a comfortable routine, and you'll find the work (in the form of email messages and web announcements) manageable. If you let days go by before logging on, email and announcements will pile up and you'll find it difficult to catch up. Also, you'll find yourself outside the communication loop and out of synch with classmates, unable to understand what's going on.
3. RESPOND. Respond to email you receive. If you don't, the sender will assume (a) you didn't get it or (b) you don't want to respond. Remember that you're invisible to the writer. You're saying "I'm here" when you respond.
4. RESPOND IMMEDIATELY. If possible, reply immediately after receiving a message. If time doesn't allow for a comprehensive response, send a quick one-liner: "I rec'd your message and will reply this evening." Reply within 12 to 24 hours of receiving a message. This is called "grounding," and in the virtual classroom, grounding is essential.
5. USE A STABLE EMAIL ADDRESS. Send messages from a stable address that will remain constant for the duration of the course. Any change in email address will result in confusion and delays that may affect your mail for weeks.
6. IDENTIFY YOURSELF. Include your full name somewhere in your message, either in the "From:" line or the "Subject:" line in the header or in the body of your message. Don't assume that your instructor and classmates will remember who "Local Boy" or "fuzzybrain" is.
7. PARTICIPATE. In a completely online class, you don't physically "attend" a class, but attendance is still vitally important. In a virtual classroom, you attend by sending messages. By completing and distributing class work via email on or before the due date, you let your classmates and the instructor know that you're "present." If you remain silent, no one will know you're in the cyber classroom; you are, for all intents and purposes, "absent."
8. USE MEANINGFUL SUBJECT-LINES. Compose meaningful descriptions in the "Subject:" line in the header. The instructor will usually suggest a label in his/her description of the activity. Use it. If none is suggested, create one that's informative, one that lets the receiver know which task you're submitting for his/her review.
9. ORGANIZE MESSAGES. Organize the email you receive into a system of folders. In Pine, you can "[s]ave" to folders of your choice. In this way, you can keep track of your class mail and distinguish it from other mail.
10. USE ASCII. Send documents as standard ASCII files. Don't attach them to messages as encoded files that require special decoding software. Most of your readers won't have the necessary software or skills to do the decoding. Also, when sending files created in your personal word processing program, e.g., MS Word for Windows, save the file "as text" or "as text with linefeed" before sending them via email.
11. BE ACCURATE. Double-check all email addresses. An incorrect address will create confusion, and those who fail to receive your message will be omitted from the communication loop.
12. DON'T PANIC. Don't create panic in the virtual classroom. Consider the possible impact of your message. Just as you would never think to yell "FIRE!" in a crowded auditorium, you shouldn't sound an alarm to classmates or the entire class unless it's absolutely necessary. Be sure to wait at least 24 for replies (from classmates and the instructor) to your questions or pleas for help. If after 24 hours you still haven't heard from anyone, send a message to the instructor with "URGENT: HELP" in the subject line. (The instructor for an online course receives hundreds of messages a day; he might've missed your first message.) He/she logs on at least twice a day M-F, and at least once a day on the weekends. If after 24 hours he doesn't respond, phone him or, if possible, drop by his office during his office hours. You will receive a response within 24-48 hours.
13. BE PROMPT. More than in F2F classrooms, diligence in completing activities on time is critical in an Internet class. Often, your groupmates won't be able to complete an activity without your timely cooperation. If you need additional time, let your groupmates and the instructor know before the due date/time. They will understand if you need an additional 2-to-6 hours to complete an activity. You shouldn't be late more than two or three times in the semester. If you're chronically late, expect everyone to be less patient.
14. DON'T FLAME. If you're upset at someone and you've written a message expressing your anger, wait 24 hours before sending it. In Pine, use the control-"o" command to postpone the message. After a day, you'll be better able to decide on the wisdom of sending the message.
15. ASK QUESTIONS OR COMMENT. If you don't understand the requirements for an activity or assignment, be sure to ask questions. In a F2F classroom, the instructor is able to "read" nonverbal cues such as frowns, nods, wrinkled brows, head tilts, squirming, etc., and he uses these to adjust his presentation. In a virtual classroom, these cues are absent. Your questions and comments will help him to clarify key points.
16. READ EVERYTHING. Read all messages sent to the class or group that you belong to--especially messages from the instructor. Read quickly using scanning strategies. Be on the lookout for questions from students and the instructor's responses. By doing this, you can avoid asking questions that have already been answered and you can be better informed about class activities.
17. CREATE BONDS. Respond to classmates' questions and concerns. In this way, you create bonds with them and begin to feel a part of the community. Get to know everyone in class via public and private email. Your enjoyment of the online experience will be dependent on the extent to which you feel connected to and comfortable with your virtual classmates.
18. COMMENT MEANINGFULLY. You'll be asked throughout the semester to respond to classmates' ideas for papers or drafts. Although any comment is better than none at all, a meaningful, helpful comment is invaluable. It shows that you've read and thought about the student's ideas and you sincerely want to help him/her. As a rule, avoid general comments such as "Good ideas." Instead, list the specific points that you feel are good. Even if the student's performance is outstanding, suggest ways to further strengthen it.
19. FORMAT FOR THE ELECTRONIC MEDIUM. For emailed papers, use single-space within paragraphs and double-space between paragraphs. Use only standard ASCII characters. Indent the first line of paragraphs about five spaces, using the spacebar; don't use TAB. In Pine, (a) use control-"j" to reformat each paragraph so that it conforms to the message space and (b) use control-"t" to spell-check your drafts. Be sure to include the standard essay information at the left top of the beginning of the message:
Also include a title that's flush with the left margin.
20. COMPOSE ONLINE. Learn to use your mail editor as a word processor and begin composing online. It doesn't have all the features of a MS-Word or Word Perfect, but it has enough to make it very effective and efficient. Keeping working documents online has many advantages: (a) you have access to it from any internet-connected station; (b) you can distribute it to anyone with a touch of a key; (c) you can compose, revise, and resend the working draft to yourself from anywhere as often as you want, (d) you're reminded to work on it because it'll be there in your index of received mail.
21. RELAX. Don't be overly concerned with grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. when composing informal email messages. The point is to communicate and not spend too much time and energy fretting over mechanics.
22. MASTER UPLOADING. Learn how to select and paste the contents of a word-processed file into an email message. Learn other techniques as well, e.g., Fetch, Kermit. Practice these procedures before the first major draft is due.
23. SIGNAL HUMOR. Anticipate possible misinterpretations of text that's meant to be funny. Use emoticons to signal humor. Here are a few examples:
24. QUOTE ECONOMICALLY. Don't quote unnecessarily. Definitely don't quote long messages when your response is a brief one or two lines. In commenting on a classmate's draft of a paper, send your comments only, if possible, and don't send the entire draft back. Remember that classmates may have space limits on the amount of email they can receive in their mailboxes. If their boxes fill, messages will be bounced back to senders.
25. LEARN HOW TO COMMENT EFFECTIVELY. When reviewing a draft for a classmate, you may need to insert yoour suggestions or questions between paragraphs. To distinguish your words from the writer's, use ALL CAPS.
TO THE TCC ONLINE CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT:
Please take the time to share with me other topics that you feel are
important. Also, please share alternative ways of handling the 25 topics
I've included in this presentation. My email address is email@example.com
TCC Online Conferences