Q&A: What should online students do differently

Answer: I wish they paid attention to the things they don't have to pay attention to in person. That probably makes no sense, but once I explain it, it'll click.

Imagine you're in a traditional classroom. There's a lively discussion happening. You make an insightful comment. You can tell people heard you, because not only do some people nod in agreement, others get angry and start waving their hands. Your comment reshapes class discussion, and contributes to everyone's learning.

Now imagine the same discussion online. You make an insightful comment, and nothing happens. Not only does no one respond -- you get a zero for class discussion. What happened? The answer is, technology happened. There was a software glitch, or your Internet service provider hiccuped, and your comment didn't post. You didn't check…so it didn't happen.

I wish students took a few seconds to confirm their comments went through. This applies throughout all kinds of assignments. In person, you'd know if you were submitting a 20 page paper or the one page overview that you had created four weeks earlier. Online, if the file names are close, and you're tired, you might submit the wrong one without realizing it.

So if you're taking classes online, work methodically through all the ways that the wonderful technology that usually makes learning so much easier, and plan for them. Label files clearly. Make sure your passwords work before you try to access the math exercises that are due at midnight. Find out if your school only supports some software programs, and which versions, and so on.


Greg BeattyGreg Beatty has a PhD in English from the University of Iowa and over twenty years experience in higher education. He’s taught everything from standardized test prep courses and freshman orientation and composition courses on up to serving on doctoral committees. He’s taught in the traditional classroom, correspondence courses, online courses, and hybrid courses. He’s developed curriculum for several colleges (sometimes as sole author, sometimes working collaboratively), and served as a textbook manuscript reviewer for Longman. He’s won grants for course development, and awards for his teaching. Greg has mentored new teachers and co-taught workshops on teaching excellence. He’s also served on a range of committees and college advisory boards, and has served as an area chair for humanities.