The first day of school can be stressful for any student. However, for an online student, it can be even more stressful. Instead of sitting in classroom listening to the instructor review expectations for the course and discuss next steps, online students are often provided with little to no guidance when a course starts. There is little time to spend getting acquainted with the course structure or the professor and, oftentimes, course instruction begins right away. This can be extremely stressful. To help start the semester off right, there are three important steps that I recommend every online student do to prepare themselves for the semester before it starts.
1- Review the Syllabus and the Course Once Available
I know that no one wants to start coursework before it is absolutely necessary, but to avoid significant stress, it’s important to review the course syllabus and the course itself prior to the first day of class and write down important dates. This helps for a few reasons. The first is that by reviewing the course and the syllabus, there aren’t going to be any surprises for you on the first day because you already know what to expect. The second is that it allows you to practice with the learning management system and acquaint yourself with the way the professor has set up the class. Additionally, if you have a conflict with a scheduled course due date, it gives you time to prepare- especially if the assignment is due very soon after the semester starts- and it helps you organize yourself before you have things due.
Most professors open their courses in the learning management system at least 24-48 hours prior to the semester starting, and some will do it even earlier than that so that students have time to prepare.
2- Practice With the Learning Management System
The learning management system (i.e. Blackboard, Canvas, etc) is the system that houses all coursework for your online class. These systems, while relatively user friendly, can be difficult to navigate at first and contain a significant amount of content. Therefore, it is extremely important that you know how to use it prior to class start. Failing to practice with the technology you will be using prior to the start of class is a recipe for disaster. Instead of being focused on your homework and course content, you’ll be trying to learn the technology, which can make you fall behind. If you need help, ask your advisor, program coordinator, student success coach, or other contact for advice. He/she should be able to direct you to the appropriate resources so that you can practice using the technology ahead of time.
3- Plan Your Time for Coursework
Many online students fail to understand how time consuming their online courses can be. Don’t assume that just because they are “flexible” that you won’t need to work hard and dedicate significant time to your courses. It is extremely important to map out your time before class starts. Be realistic about it too. If your advisor says that you need to be prepared to dedicate 30-40 hours per week to class, they really mean it! Saying that you’re going to work 60+ hours and dedicate 40 hours per week to online school while also having a family life and volunteering for your favorite charity isn’t realistic. Remember, you have to eat, sleep and have some sort of social life. Planning how you will spend your time on a calendar helps you remember those important things and will help you determine how much time you really have to dedicate to school. If you can’t find the time in your daily schedule for the estimated time needed for school, either reduce your credit load or cut something out. There is no way you’ll be able to balance everything.
Doing these three simple tasks ahead of time will help you feel less stress when class starts and will set you up for success in your online courses. It’s important to make sure that you are well-prepared prior to the first day of class so that you can start your semester off right.
What tips and tricks have you used to prepare yourself for a successful semester?