Preparing for the Worst: An Online Student’s Guide for Handling Emergencies

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A few terms ago, I had a brilliant student in my English composition class. She actively participated in all the discussion forums, she gave her classmates insightful and encouraging feedback, and she wrote with a passionate elegance. In short, she was an ideal student. About midway through the term, she disappeared without a trace. After weeks of silence, I finally heard back from her advisor: one of the student’s family members had passed away, and she was so distraught that she was unable to concentrate on her classwork. The student tried to make a comeback, but she didn’t have enough time to make up all the missing work.

Sadly, these stories are all too common. Many online students fall off the radar halfway through the term. It usually has nothing to do with their academic abilities. More often than not, students disappear because they encounter unforeseen challenges. Online courses vary in length, but most courses are around 8 weeks long. Although the accelerated format has its advantages, it can make it more difficult for students to rebound after experiencing a setback.

That’s why it’s important to come up with a game plan so you’re prepared to deal with the curveballs that life may throw at you. Here are some of the most common problems you may encounter during your online class and the best ways to deal with them!

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Want to Succeed in the Online Classroom? Ask Questions!

A few days before the start of every term, I get an e-mail from some eager student wanting to know how to complete the first writing assignment. I’m usually still in my end-of-term grading haze, but I direct that student to the assignment guidelines and the rubric, and I assure her that she’s always welcome to ask questions. Inevitably, the student e-mails me back. She thanks me enthusiastically, and then, she issues a warning: “I’m going be that student who asks you questions about everything. Just want you to know.” It’s that student, the one who asks questions on a weekly, sometimes even daily basis, who usually ends up being the superstar of the class!

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Stress Triggers and Management Strategies for Online Students

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Stress is a common and normal reaction to unusual or demanding situations. Some stress can be good; however, too much stress can result in negative emotional and physical reactions. Learning how to deal with excessive or unnecessary stress can reduce these negative effects. We all have stressful situations crop up from time to time, but learning to handle stress is the key to avoiding negative physical and emotional reactions. School can cause stress in students of all ages. Sadly, we sometimes hear of students as young as elementary school age having headaches and upset stomachs related to school stress. College students can also experience high stress levels related to school.

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What’s in a Course Syllabus and Why Should You Read It?

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Every class has a syllabus that is considered a roadmap of the course and contains all the information needed to successfully complete the course. Students are responsible for reading the syllabus in detail and understanding all the information. One part of the syllabus includes school and/or program resources and the other part of the syllabus is a guide to course-specific schedules, assignments, and grading. Review each course syllabus for the following types of information.

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5 Ways to Sustain Motivation in Your Online Class

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You have signed up for a new class and you are excited and ready to get started. For some students, this enthusiasm carries through the entire class term and for others, the enthusiasm seems to wane as each week goes on. What is the difference and how do students maintain their motivation throughout a class? Before your class begins, think about why you enrolled in the class and write down your initial motivation for taking the class. Then think about why you are enrolled in your program; perhaps it’s for a work promotion, or for personal satisfaction, or any other of many individual reasons. Write these down and refer to them often to keep in mind your motivation for furthering your education. Here are five strategies for sustaining your initial motivation for taking academic classes.

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5 Success Tips for Online Group Projects

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When asked about online group projects, the vast majority of students state emphatically that they don’t like working in groups. The primary reason for most students is that group work is not equitable and one or two students end up doing all the tasks. Another consideration is the difficulty in getting all group members together to discuss the project because most online classes include students in multiple time zones. Another challenge is communicating online, which has both advantages and disadvantages.

One advantage of communicating online is convenience; students can check in, post ideas, respond to others, and share files anytime during the day or night that suits individual schedules. The corresponding disadvantage is having to wait for all group members to post ideas or responses to questions, completed tasks, and suggestions for changes. In online group work, waiting for responses from group members holds up everyone’s ability to get work done in a timely manner.

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4 Ways to Get More Out of Assigned Reading

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Students in college can expect to read hundreds of pages of assigned reading per week. One of the myths that students bring to college is that reading something one time is enough. Another myth is that reading is all you have to do. The truth is that reading is a passive activity and if that’s all you do, you’ll be reading the same chapter over and over, trying to understand and remember the information. The key to remembering information is active reading, which includes writing, talking, and thinking critically about the content.

Active reading strategies “trick” your brain into understanding and remembering more of the reading assignment than if you just read every word in every section one time. Active reading takes effort and time; however, it will save time in the long run that you would otherwise spend reading and studying chapters multiple times because you don’t remember the information.

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Vacation During an Online Class: Good Idea or Not?

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Online classes are the most convenient and flexible way to get a degree. One of the perks with online education is the ability to travel and take vacations while continuing with classes. As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, online students need a lot of self-directedness, determination, and planning to be successful, and this is even more important if you want or need to schedule a vacation during an online class. Many online students are limited to when they can take vacation because of work or family obligations and very few people are willing to interrupt a degree program by putting off classes for 6 or 8 weeks just so they can take a 1-2 week vacation. With online classes, you can do both at the same time!

I have travelled while taking online classes as a grad student and am doing so now while teaching as an online professor. The key is in planning ahead for every contingency, making a schedule for school work, and sticking with your daily schedule. Here are some tips for continued success in an online class while on vacation or traveling.

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Tips for Successful Online Discussions

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Most learning in online classes takes place in the weekly asynchronous discussion forum. Most classes have specific requirements for discussions, including how many days per week students need to post in the discussions and which days they need to post. The general rule for posting messages is to write one posting addressing the discussion prompt and then write a response to 2-3 classmates’ original postings. The general rule for days posting and response due dates is to make the initial posting by mid-week and responses to two classmates’ postings between 2-4 days later.

Before participating in the discussions, students should prepare ahead of time by reviewing all information about discussions and grading in the syllabus. If a rubric is provided for discussions, review that carefully. It is a good idea to make a checklist of requirements so you can review and check each posting and response before submitting to the discussion area. Here are some tips that are relevant for all online discussions.

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Five Steps for Effective Proofreading

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Every online course requires weekly written assignments and at least one, sometimes more, two-five page papers. All too often, students seem to see weekly course assignments in terms of “once and done,” meaning they write the assignments and then submit for a grade without going through the drafting, editing, proofing, and editing process. Based on comments by online instructors, it seems that most students do not proofread weekly assignments, instead relying on Grammar Check to catch writing mistakes. Students who take the time to follow the writing process for weekly assignments, and then proofread effectively, earn higher grades than do those who see assignments as a quick writing activity. Following an effective proofreading process has the added advantage of providing a schedule for completing assignments so that you are not rushing through an assignment at the last minute on the due date. The proofreading process includes five basic steps.

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