What I Wish I Knew Before Taking Online Classes


PACS students offer tips for taking online classes

Online degree programs undoubtedly offer a host of benefits. You get to set your own schedule and go at your own pace. Online classes allow you the flexibility to juggle your responsibilities, but the self-motivation and self-discipline it takes to set your own schedule and stick to it can be challenging. If you chose online classes because you thought it would be easy, you probably learned otherwise pretty quickly.

Even if you did your research before enrolling in an online program, you probably encountered a few surprises. We asked our own PACS students what they wish they’d known before taking our classes. Here’s what they told us.

Keep your books

Many students said they made the mistake of getting rid of their books when a course was over only to discover they needed them when it came time for comp exams.

“Keep your books,” said Colby Townsend. “I rented almost all of my books, and I scrambled for the first week of my comp exams trying to rent or borrow the same books. It was frustrating because I could envision the information I wanted to use, but for some reason all the books kind of melded together in my head. It would have taken a chunk of the stress away had I been able to pick up the books and thumb through them right away, instead of taking a week trying to determine what book I actually needed and where I was going to find it, and fast.”
    
While we’re on the subject of books, several students suggested ordering books from Amazon or getting digital copies.

“If you can get a digital version of the book, like a Kindle, then do so,” said Erik Valentine. “Being able to search for keywords makes finding important passages so much easier.”

Participate in discussions

“Instructors want you to do your best and pass their classes, and they’re going to work with you to help you out,” said Malca Woodfork. “Don’t feel ashamed. Don’t feel timid. Email them if you need help.”

Online forums and discussions are a big part of the online classroom experience. In addition to learning about classmates, participation shows your professor you’re taking the class seriously. While it may seem like extra work, students agree it’s important to communicate with your classmates.

Serai Davis said participating in forums has been useful during her coursework.

“I’m in my final semester,” Davis said. “The discussions have been extremely helpful.”

Online discussions give you a chance to test your ideas against those of classmates. They also keep you motivated and help you feel like you’re part of a community.

“To ensure participation, be prepared to engage in discussions and what may seem like busy work,” said Erin Bookout. “It’s useful, thought-provoking and helpful, but it requires efficient writing skills which probably would have been a casual conversation in the classroom.”

Brush up on your writing skills

In face-to-face classes, you’re speaking directly with professors and classmates. When you’re communicating online, the written word takes center stage.

Our students said Grammarly, a tool that is free for OU students, is a big help when it comes to improving their writing skills. Grammarly helps you learn by correcting your grammar and spelling errors, as well as improving your vocabulary.

“Download Grammarly,” said Valentine. “Grammarly not only helps you with your essays and submissions, but it will also help you with your writing overall, such as emails and work assignments.”

Jennifer Porter said she discovered Grammarly before enrolling in school. She uses it for online discussion forums and schoolwork.

“I found out about Grammarly before I took my first class and have been using it for every paper. I even use it to grammar-check my discussion posts,” she said. “I downloaded it as an add on for my Microsoft Word, so I don’t even have to go to the Grammarly site to check anything.”

Amber Andrews said she wishes she’d learned about Grammarly earlier.

“I didn’t find out about Grammarly until a professor mentioned it nearly two years into my classes,” she said.

Communicate with your instructors

Unlike traditional students, online students don’t have the advantage of one-on-one visits with your instructors during regular office hours. Initiating close contact with your instructors could be the difference between success and failure.

“I was hesitant at first, but if your instructor tells you to feel free to ask questions, then you should definitely do so,” said Valentine. “One of my professors was willing to check my APA formatting prior to the turn-in submission date if I sent it early enough, and it saved me points on the grade every time.”

Once you learn how your professors like to be contacted, you should introduce yourself and ask questions. Be sure to check in periodically during the semester, and let professors know if you’re struggling.

“Instructors want you to do your best and pass their classes, and they’re going to work with you to help you out,” said Malca Woodfork. “Don’t feel ashamed. Don’t feel timid. Email them if you need help.”

It’s also worth noting that not all instructors are created equal.

“Be prepared to have some who facilitate their courses well and actually engage with their students, and be prepared to have some who don’t engage at all and don’t provide feedback on assignments,” said Andrews. “When professors don’t engage, those courses feel really isolating.”

Andrews added that knowing how to navigate through everything, from enrollment to financial aid and everything in between, as well as being aware of your resources is important.

“Taking online courses is a different beast than actually being on campus,” she said. “Having access to a broad scope of information and knowing where to find that information is key.” 

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Tami Althoff

Tami Althoff holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is a reporter with more than 20 years’ experience working for newspapers, including The Oklahoman. She has covered everything from breaking news to local music and art. She loves sports, especially OU football and basketball games, where she often embarrasses her children by yelling too loudly.