Finding success with online courses

Whether this will be your first experience with online learning or you are an old pro, it is vital to consider how to make the best of your experience.

Have realistic expectations

Road sign stating Reality Just Ahead

Online courses offer a greater level of flexibility BUT they are not less work or easier than campus courses. Consider the following.

As a general rule, you should expect to spend 3-4 hours each week for every hour of credit.  You may graduate more quickly if you take 12 hours each semester, but realize that this schedule will require 36-48 hours of work each week.  Can you succeed if you do less work each week?  If your goal is simply to hang a diploma on your wall, then you can probably show less effort and limp through your degree but, if your goal is to be educated and to grow intellectually, you have to invest the necessary time and effort.

If your past experience has been with 100- and 200-level courses, you should expect your 300- and 400-level courses to be more challenging.  This doesn’t mean that the courses you already completed were easy or that your previous school did not challenge you.  Those lower-division courses were meant to provide a foundation of knowledge and skills to prepare you to succeed in more challenging upper-division courses.  So, if you could easily handle 12 hours of lower-division courses in the past, you might consider fewer hours in your first semester of upper-division credit.  This will allow you to get acclimated to more challenging content and to determine whether a heavier schedule in future semesters is in your best interest.

Take advantage of the help you need.

Computer Keyboard with help button

Online students have a reputation for being independent, which is great because online learning requires a great deal of independence, but don’t let this prevent you from seeking help.  Students who seek help are not marginal students who are barely making it in college; students who seek help are successful, future college graduates who wisely take advantage of opportunities.  Later in this orientation, you will find details on vital support services like Brookens Library, the UIS Learning Hub, the Career Development Center, and Technology Support.  You can contact these services directly.  The A-Z Index, which is linked at the top of most UIS webpages, is an easy way to find their websites and contact information.

You should also feel free to reach out to your Program Coordinator, Andy Egizi, when you need some guidance or have a question you can’t answer yourself.  If you were an COM major on our campus, you would stop by Andy’s office if you needed him, so don’t hesitate to call or email.  There are times of the year when it is best to schedule an appointment with Andy.  If you want to reserve a time, you can access his advising calendar to see when he is available.

Embrace the UIS community.

Web of community member

In our experience, COM majors tend to choose an online program because they are busy with work, with family, and with their communities.  They are deeply involved in their own communities and aren’t necessarily looking to add a new online UIS community to their busy lives.  Still, there is a value to connecting with other online students and with your faculty.  Who else will truly understand your frustration with a difficult assignment, or the stress of staying up late to get a test done before the midnight deadline, or the excitement of getting a great grade after investing so much personal effort into the work?  It’s good to make some UIS friends along the way.

  • Look for open discussion threads on your course discussion boards (many courses provide a place for discussion that is not directly related to class.)
  • Actively participate in course discussion (this not only lets you get to know your classmates, it helps your grade.)
  • If you connect with a classmate, start an UIS email relationship so that you can remain in contact after the semester ends.  Consider starting a study group using Google Hangouts.

In addition to students, you should interact with your faculty.  Let’s be honest, faculty were people long before they earned Ph.D.s and, like all people, some are more communicative than others. So, it is impossible to promise that all of your professors will be anxious to hear from you, but most of them really do want to hear from you and to do what they can to help you succeed.

Consider this thought before you reach out to your professors.  Have you ever heard “there is no such thing as a bad question”?  If so, it is not true; there are lots of bad questions:)  When it comes to interacting with faculty, a bad question is one that you ask before you make an effort to find an answer on your own.  For example, rather than contacting a professor with, “I don’t understand the reading” you might consider asking, “I just finished reading (fill in a difficult reading assignment here.)  I understand that (summarize an important detail here), but I’m not sure what the writer means by (describe the part that confuses you.) This sort of question demonstrates your effort and engages your professor in the teaching process, rather than expecting them to do your thinking for you.

Get organized.

Date calendar

Even more than face-to-face courses, succeeding in online courses demands discipline, organization, and time-management.  If you already use tools to organize your work and time, then apply those tools to your UIS courses.  Otherwise, you need to consider how to get organized.

If you were a student on our campus, we would tell you when and where a course meets; as an online student, you need to determine this for yourself.  Don’t assume “I’ll get my homework done in my free time.” What is “free time” with work and family obligations?

You should schedule time for your classes (9-12 hours each week for each class) and you should identify a dedicated study space.  Share this with your family –  “during these hours, I am not to be disturbed in this space.”  Will you feel selfish and guilty for doing this?  Maybe, but remember that you are focusing on your future when you study and that your family will benefit from that in the long run.

Find a system that helps you make the most of your time.

Finally, if you feel that you are multitasker, you might reconsider whether or not it is in your best interest.