Undergrad Summer Reading

How to get the most out of your online college class.

I’ve been teaching undergraduate courses via computer for about a decade. Here are some tips based on my personal experience that can help you get the biggest return on the investment of your time and energy within this type of learning environment.

Because it is so foreign to the traditional face to face classroom model that students have learned to navigate most of their lives, students often arrive in an “online” class unprepared. This can create the kinds of obstacles that lead to less that the ideal conditions for learning excellence.

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The traditional class has set days and times where the student is present and focused primarily on receiving new information and knowledge about the subject material. Their complete attention is committed to listening to the direction of an instructor and they face immediate consequences for not having prepared in advance by reading, studying, and note taking. Questions are addressed in a manner that allows for immediate clarification and professors are able to offer multiple examples which can help cement the learning of new concepts. Students can also employ multiple learning modalities in one setting by vocalizing their thoughts, hearing the information spoken, seeing visual representations of the content and writing down cogent facts that have significance.

The typical online class has no set day, no set time. Students must make a conscious decision about when, where, and even how they will engage with the material. That engagement is first and foremost, reading, reading and more reading! Any writing, listening, speaking or visualization are primarily brought about by the student deciding to add those aspects by introducing each of them on their own. Would the typical student know how to? Would they even recognize the need to do it in order to learn better?

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Tip: if offered, attend an online orientation course.
These courses are designed specifically to educate students on the unique challenges online classes present so that students can equip themselves with appropriate strategies to do well.

Tip: Plan to study the first available day that you have for each learning module.
Each online class is divided into modules that take place over a number of days. Students who perform best start their work on the first day that the module is assigned. They read the assigned material. They take notes. They learn the definitions of new terms and they quiz themselves on key concepts that they have identified. Verbal quizzing – saying the answers out loud – is a good way to add 2 modalities. Reading and taking notes or highlighting is not enough by itself to retain a large enough amount of the information. By studying early, you allow yourself time to absorb new knowledge. In a few days you can review the material and find out how much you have already retained. This is critical for an online student. You can then take the remaining available time to focus on the parts you’ve yet to memorize. Also, you can ask questions or ask for any help from the instructor. Students who wait until the module is almost over to begin working have lost the ability to benefit from any of these practices.

Tip: Engage in the class as often as possible.
Many classes attempt to simulate the face to face dynamic that occurs with discussion groups and professor led seminars. This is done by allowing students to ‘text message’ one another during the module to exchange ideas about various topics. Instructors know how important this community building is for student success so they often provide detailed written guidance on how to interact with other students for maximum benefit. Many students do not follow the instructions. Instead they assume a level of participation that they think is required and commit to do only that much. That falls far short of the engagement needed to help not just the particular student but everyone else in the class as well. Imagine that you are in a traditional face to face classroom and the three other people assigned to your small group discussion do not say a word to you during the entire class. Even when you ask each of them a specific question, they just look at you and stay completely silent. Finally, after you have reached the point where you have given up all hope after patiently waiting for a reply – the instructor announces ‘time’s up’ and asks each group to report out on your discussion – your classmate whispers to you, ‘I agree with what you said’. What did you get out of that?

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Tip: Reader; know thyself.
How good of a reader are you? What is your reading comprehension? There are reading strategies that teach how to get the most information in the shortest amount of time from textbooks. Did you know that? Do you use any of them? Colleges typically have the ability to score textbooks on their level of readability – how hard it is for the average student to read it and understand it. You should find out the readability of your class textbook and compare it with your own reading level. This will tell you how much work you have cut out for you. Ultimately, an online class will be based on how much reading you do and how much you are able to learn from reading.  Here are 3 reading systems that I share with students. Try each of them and test your results. You can also modify them or combine the best parts, tailoring them to what suits you best.

SQ3R

P2R

S-RUN

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