In 2001 the Vice President of Academics came into my office and said, “Alan, we’re going to start an online program, and you’re on the team.” I responded, “That’s the stupidest idea I ever heard.” She replied, “Too bad, you’re on the team.”
During the next year, at that institution, in Illinois, I had the opportunity to develop online curriculum, teach the courses to prove them, and debrief hundreds of students taking the online courses. What I found out surprised me, and converted me to online education. 60% of students who took an online course loved the course and the format, and wished that they could take every course that way. The online format provides tremendous flexibility (mainly in when you can do the work) and changes the locus of control. Locus of control? Instead of listening to a ‘sage on the stage’, you as a student get to investigate and research on your own. Most students love this some students don’t.
I also learned that 40% of the students in 2001 hated online format. Why? An even split: Half of those students had problems with the technology, and half acknowledged they did not have the self-discipline to work on their own.
So what has changed? Fewer students are having problems with technology. Many know technology better than the instructors and even the IT department in some cases. However, technology still is a challenge for many students. Self-discipline remains, and will probably always remain, an issue for many students.
The following are just a few suggestions that some students have already adopted, and others should:
(1) Remember why you’re here. There will always be distractions. Life happens. Get a picture of your future. If your desire is a better life, what is a picture that keeps that future better life in mind? For me it would be a picture of a beach with palm trees in Hawaii. If I had that picture where I could see it, i.e., the refrigerator and the computer, it will constantly remind me of why I am in school.
(2) Get your support group on board. If you have friends who would rather go out drinking, dancing, or sky diving, rather than study, you need to find a new support group. Let everyone know that you’re going to earn your degree. The more people you tell, the more likely you are to stick to it when it gets rough.
(3) Set aside specific times each week to work. It really doesn’t matter when, but I’d recommend at least three different days. Is it 11pm to 1am Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday? Is it noon to 1pm every day? This is the flexibility of online education. You can choose when to study. However, you still need to allocate enough time to get the work done. Schedule your study time and stick to it.
(4) Get the help you need. We have gone to great lengths to provide extra help for students in the online division. We have labs in every course. You should be able to ask questions about assignments and get specific help on how to do those assignments. We have acquired two tools of special note: Smarthinking and MyFoundationsLab. In Smarthinking you can write a draft of your paper, send it in to them, and get some concrete suggestions on how to improve the paper in 24 hours. MyFoundationsLab is a whole library of helps for reading, writing, math, and student success.
(5) Get the help you need part 2. Your instructor wants to help you. Contact your instructor with questions. Almost every course has a mentor. The mentor is assigned to the course to reach out to you, and help answer questions. They can direct you to resources outside the classroom if you’re struggling. Instructors may recommend a tutor, or you can request one yourself. This is someone who will meet with you online every week to help with assignments if you need that assistance.
(6) Keep in contact. Our greatest challenge in trying to help students make it through those rough spots is difficulty in opening a dialog. If you are not attending your class, we worry and try to reach out. We need to know how to contact you, whether by phone, email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. There needs to be a way to reach you that we know about. Keep your advisor updated on any changes regarding your contact information.
There are many other things you can do to be successful in school online. Reading and doing your homework is a great start. Participating in as many live chats as possible is another great idea. You have made the right first step, let us help you get to the finish line and that beach with the palm trees. Remember the words of Winston Churchill, “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”