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What I Wish I'd Known...

About Distance Learning

The comments quoted below were posted on the Discussion Board in a number of Bellevue College (BC) online classes (English, Math, Anthropology, Psychology, etc.) in response to the question, "What do you wish you had known before taking a college credit course online?"  Some of the comments have been edited for spelling and length, but many are just as they were posted. 

These may help you decide whether you want to take an online course and how best to succeed if you decide to go for it.

This is my fourth quarter taking online courses, and my second english class online, so I already knew what I was in for. However, when I first signed up for an online class, I wish I had realized how much time it took. All of the discussions can take a lot of time. In my class this quarter for instance, there have already been over 2,500 postings, and now people are posting about 75 a day, since it's nearing the end of the quarter. I also wish I had known how much self-motivation it takes to do well in an online class. By now I've gotten it down, but it was hard at first to treat it like a normal class and sign on at least once a day. When I first began I only checked every few days, now I have to check multiple times a day so that I don't become overwhelmed.

What surprised me about an on-line class is that the interaction was really a good deal greater than most on-campus classes I've had. Everyone had to post at least one question/insight per book plus at least four comments on other posts. Although a few of us did way more, just about everyone contributed a decent amount to the discussions whereas in some on-campus classes there are a few people who do all the talking while many people either can't get a word in edgewise or just stare out the window. So I guess to sum up my on-line class experience, and what I wish I had known:

  1. The time you save not going to campus will easily be used on getting your work done if you want to do well.
  2. Interaction with other classmates can actually be greater than that in on campus classes.
  3. You definitely need to handle your time wisely and keep on top of your work. That aspect is built in to a class you attend in person, but for on-line classes it all falls to you.

That last bit was something I was used to. Before my youngest was in elementary school I did some catch-up classes via telecourses and was very used to the self-directed aspect, but I think that does surprise a lot of people. I do highly recommend on-line classes, and since I'll be transferring soon I wish UW offered more of them! Since I live on the Eastside I think I would actually save some time with those.

I wish I had known exactly how it worked before I took my first online class. I've found that the communication between students and instructors gets really frustrating some times. If you have a question it usually takes at the very least a couple of hours to get an answer. This is not anyone's fault, it's just the way the system works. Also if your computer isn't working properly it can create some very frustrating situations. In my first online class my instructor delegated all of my e-mails by accident. As a result, when grade time came it looked like I had turned in nothing, so I failed. It was partly my fault for not keeping hard copies on my computer but I learned from that mistake and haven't had any problems since. On the plus side I like how you can do your work anytime you want. I don't have to rearrange my work schedule around class time and I can work in my own free time. All in all I would say the positives overtake the negatives and I will probably continue to take online classes.

I wish I had just known...oh how I wish.... This was my first online class. I thought that it would be good to take an English class online, as I have a lot of faith in my ability in the English department. I was a bit scared to start taking online classes, overwheled you could say. I knew that I would be alone, alone to do my work, without anyone else to harrass me or throw spit wads at me. I knew that I would not get anything out of looking at the clock and saying "only 17.667 more minutes of class left". I also knew that I would not have to worry about not bringing food or drink to class. I did not know that I would spill a drink all over my keyboard and ruin it though. I wish I would have known that.
         I wish I would have known it would be so hot today; I would have written this yesterday. About the course itself, It was pretty much how I expected. I can't really think of anything that was a major surprise. It did take me a couple weeks to get in the groove, but once I got there, I feel as if I have done well. Missing the first week was tough as well. I wish I had a faster computer. With Kazaa downloading songs all the time on a 56K modem its hard to wait for class work to load. I wish I would have known to get DSL. Maybe next time. Yeah...maybe next time...

(It's Screenwriter Guild for him, next year, for sure ~ Editor)

I think that online classes are the greatest thing ever. As I sit here in my hotel in San Francisco, I realize that I would have never of had the opportunity to get my degree while working and traveling full time, if it wasn't for online classes. Online classes also have allowed me to gain more independence and discipline in my life. This isn't like going to class everyday and having the teacher explain to you numerous times when homework and tests are going to be. You have to be dedicated enough to keep your on schedule and get your tasks done on time or you will definitely fail.
        Some advice that I could offer is that in a class setting it is much easier to watch the teacher lecture or do problems and ask questions out loud and hear responses. While online, you only have e-mail and notes to go off of, although you can schedule a meeting time with your teacher to go over the material. So when you could be in a class seeing live visuals, you now rely solely on the textbook and the notes. This makes it a challenge, but a challenge that I am willing to sacrifice in order to graduate and also work.

I really enjoy taking online courses. I have an 11 month old baby and it makes it a lot easier on my fiance and me. I work days, my fiance works nights, so I do my classes after the baby goes to sleep. I feel that online courses are wonderful for parents who don't want to use daycare. One thing everyone should know about online courses: you have to be a self learner and dedicated. If you are the type of person who has to go to class everyday in order to get your schoolwork done, online courses might not be the best option. Good luck to anyone deciding to take online courses. I definitely prefer them.

Online classes are the only way that I am able to work full time, spend time with my family, and then burn the midnight oil to get some homework done. They offer so much more flexibility than a traditional day or night class. The most difficult thing about online courses is being self disciplined. It is easy to fall behind and once you do that, it's very difficult to catch up. I have taken several classes online. Instead of just dealing with words, you are dealing with concepts, and if you just don't "get it" you have to either post a question and wait for a response or keep trying to figure it out on your own. You can't just raise your hand and ask for clarification. All in all, it is well worth the extra effort to have the ability to do my class work on my own schedule rather than having to sit in a classroom several nights a week.

I think online classes are the greatest thing ever invented. They allow for so much flexibility. My words of advice would definitely be, just because it's online, don't be afraid to ask questions of your classmates or the professor, that's what they're there for. Although you may not get immediate response, be vocal. If you ask a lot of questions in a regular class, ask them in an online class. The benefit is that more you will be far more likely to have several responses rather than just that of the professor. Aside from the obvious, having to be self-disciplined. If you are afraid of computers in any way shape or form, this is not the venue for you. If you have never used the internet, stay in the real classroom. I have some very intelligent friends who can't even begin to comprehend the format this class has taken for me and it's simply because they are not computer aware. It's also very important to be aware whether your class requires any on-campus attendance for proctored tests or lab participation. If you can overcome those obstacles or at least realize they exist, online courses are an amazing revolution!! 

While I am a big fan of online courses, I have picked up a few things over the past year that may help first-timers avoid trouble.

1) Beware of Vista downtime. The server is up most of the time. But, like any other computer application, it will always crash when you need it most. So, don't wait until the last minute to get assignments in. The instructors are usually very understanding, but if you've known about an assignment for two weeks, its not a very good excuse that the system was down in the last ten minutes before it was due.

2) Check the syllabus for on-campus requirements. Some courses will require at least occasional visits to the campus. Both of the courses I've taken which had this requirement also allowed for proctors, but you need to be prepared for this up front.

3) You need to be computer savvy, not just computer literate. If you only know how to turn the thing on and type Instant Messages or chat, you are going to have trouble. In every course I've taken this year, there has been at least one person who has struggled because they have minimal computer skills. There are probably more people out there in the same situation, but only a few have publicly admitted it. If you are not comfortable with using the internet and MS Office software, you could be in trouble.

4) On-line does not equal easy. In fact, classes may be tougher because of the lack of personal interaction. You can't raise your hand and get a question answered immediately (well, you could raise your hand, but you'd look pretty silly doing it alone in front of your computer). You can get your questions answered, but you need to be prepared to wait until someone else logs on and sees your question. If you are someone who has always asked lots of questions in class, stick to brick & mortar.

5) My final tip. Don't take an incredibly challenging course as your first on-line class. Find a subject that you are relatively comfortable with, and make that your first on-line experience. Then, as you take more challenging courses, you will already be familiar with the on-line system, and you won't spend a lot of valuable time learning how to learn. Looking back over the last year, I don't think anything I've experienced would have changed my decision to take classes online. But, hopefully this will helps others make a better informed decision before they dive in.

1. Remember that e-mail or bulletin board postings always seem ruder than the author intended. That is the nature of communicating without being able to hear the speaker's inflections and see facial expressions. Be very careful with your written communication. This is the only way your classmates and instructor will know you.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate! Most college classes require careful thought and discussion to ensure understanding of topics. The online environment puts you at an automatic disadvantage. The only way to overcome this is to take it upon yourself to start discussions. Use the bulletin boards as chat rooms. Ask questions.

3. But remember that everyone can and will read what you post. A brave but foolish classmate waged a war of words in a previous class. It doesn't make a good impression on your English instructor to call a classmate pretty much of a jerk.

4. Make sure you understand the instructor's expectations up front. Each class has different requirements. For example, some classes provide a schedule, showing when each assignment should be worked on. Others just give due dates and assume you'll figure it out. Be sure to spend your first days in class exploring the entire WebCT class site.

5. Online classes require self-discipline. If you need someone nagging you about due dates and homework assignments, you're going to struggle.

6.Group projects are a lot harder when you're not able to meet face-to-face.

7.Don't assume everyone taking online classes is taking them for the same reasons you are. You're going to get different levels of participation from someone dedicated to earning their degree online and someone who couldn't get into a "regular" class.

1.) Begin taking classes that you already have an interest in. For every degree, there are classes that one will enjoy and classes that will not be very enjoyable to the student. If the student is already interested (excited) about learning the material than he or she is probably more self motivated to work independently.

2.) Don't think that an online class is easier; it's not. It is easier on the commute to and from campus but that's it. Online classes require self dedication and preparation.

3.) In the first few days of the class make sure that you navigate through all aspects of the site before getting too deeply involved with the course material. Many times a student's question is already answered in some form on the site but the student (like me) did not take the time to thoroughly read all course materials.

4.) WebCT has frequent downtime especially very early in the morning (3:00-5:00) so beware if you work odd hours and this is your study/interaction time.

5.) I don't find that the chat rooms help that well for analytical subjects such as math or statistics. Being able to articulate one's analytical thoughts with mathematical characters online coupled with typos can be very frustrating. However, the chat rooms do work great where they're used explicitly for sharing ideas--history, sociology, and law.

First, I'd say if you are going to order your books online, order them early ...perhaps even before signing up for the class, that way you know you have them before the class begins.
      Second, become familiar with the way the course program works. Practice helps.
      Third, when composing discussion messages as part of your assignment, make them substantive--not a message that says, "good job". That won't get you points from the teacher and isn't helpful to your fellow students.
      Fourth, when evaluating another students work as part of the class, submit it back to the student on time or early, to give them enough time to revise their work.
      Fifth, Don't get verbally abusive when you differ from another student on an opinion. There was someone in my last class whom I hated to see on the board responding to one of my messages--very distracting and unhelpful.
      Sixth, talk to the instructor if you're having problems. Email them, let them know you're having trouble--I've always found them to be very helpful and generous with their time. Also, because of my job situation I've had to ask for some help, I give them something, like submitting an assignment early and then ask for an extension to take a quiz. That way I think they know I am serious about the class and wouldn't take advantage of them and their generosity.
      Seventh, and most important, participate in the discussion boards. You won't learn and neither will your classmates if you don't actively participate. I'm sure there are more, but I think that is all for now.

There are several ways to be successful on taking online courses.

1.) Prepare to work hard. It is a lot different than attending classes. You do not have an instructor in front of you explaining everything.

2.) Be Self-Motivated. In order to succeed in the online course format you have to be motivated to do the work. You cannot just do assignments the day they are due. Make sure you leave plenty of time to work.

3.) Talk to your peers. Use the discussion boards to help each other understand a section of the text or lectures. The more you help each other the more successful you will be.

4.) Be thankful. The online class method is a convenience for you. If you are like me and work full-time you do not want to be away from your home more than needed.

5.) Stay focused. Work in an atmosphere where you can concentrate. Don't have your computer in front of a television for it will be distracting. If you do all these things you will be successful.

6.) I have read on another student's posting to order your books early. I would agree with this.

I wish that I had known that computers are not always reliable...(i.e. they freeze, stall, break down...) my advice is to always, always, always have a back up plan just in case something goes wrong during your NOT wait until the last moment to take your quiz. also, out of common courtesy do NOT wait until the last minute to post your discussion because you will leave others hanging...and, like Frank said, prepare yourself for a lot of self-motivated work because the lack of interaction with the instructor will leave you totally on your own. but have fun. it is very very convenient to be learning on your own time.

There are a few very important things that i learned about online classes this quarter that would be very helpful to incoming students.

1. DO NOT PROCRASTINATE! This would be my number one! don't think you can get on at like 11:00 the night before something is due and try to do all of it! Is is impossible, trust me, and very frustrating. Space out all of your work during the week so you are not rushing yourself and i guarantee you will get a better grade!

2. Participate in discussions a lot! Not just because you have to, but it is really helpful to get advice from other students and very helpful for other students as well to get advice from you.

3. Study for quizzes! Even though you have your book right in front of you, if you only have 30 minutes it is impossible to go through everything to find all the answers if you haven't studied! Don't take being able to use your book during tests for granted.

4. Get used to the way WEBCT works early, because if it is your first quarter doing online classes it can be very confusing! GOOD LUCK

There is really nothing that I did not know before I started this online class. I have taken a lot of them. There is one thing that I think everyone should to look at the syllabus. They are attached there for a reason. Then you know what you are getting yourself into and how time consuming the class will be. That helped me greatly in choosing a class. Other schools don't post the syllabus so you don't know until you start the class.

I wish I had known how much learning I would have to do on my own. Tests are derived directly from the book and although there is discussion in the "classroom" you don't really get any lectures. With on campus classes, I think teachers tend to talk more about what they will be testing on and what they think is more important. Online, you basically cover the entire book and it is up to you to either do it or not. You will not do well if you don't so make time for it. Also, online classes go on a direct schedule so if you're someone who needs a lot of flexibility, this format isn't for you. On the other hand, this class is great for someone who feels that on campus courses go at the pace of the entire group, which may be too fast or slow for the individual. Personally, I love online classes and take as many as I can. I like to be organized and plan out my week so I like knowing exactly when things are due week by week. It is also for someone who can learn things on their own. Lastly, if you are worried about not being good with computers, don't worry about it because WebCT's format is very easy to follow.

~ the end