College of the Siskiyous

Online Survival Guide

Who Should Take an Online Course?

Some really good reasons for enrolling in an online course:

  • You have a full-time job, a family, would like to get an education, and still have a life.
  • Because of your work schedule, you can't take classes at regularly scheduled times.
  • You are mobility impaired.
  • You can't find or afford reliable childcare.
  • You live too far from campus to attend classes.
  • You are shy and hate having to speak in class.
  • English is your second language. You read and write English reasonably well, but you have trouble understanding or being understood in English.

Online students must:

  • Be self-starters—have the maturity and motivation to work on their own
  • Have the necessary minimum hardware and software
  • Have basic computer skills

Common Misconceptions About Online Courses

  • You think that an online class will be easier than a traditional course. Actually, online courses are as difficult as, if not more difficult than, traditional courses.
  • You think it will take less time because you won't have to sit in a classroom. The reality is that an online course can take as much or more time and effort as a traditional course.
  • You want to learn how to use a computer or surf the web. Understand that you must know how to use your computer and get around on the Internet before taking an online course.

The Reality of Taking an Online Course

Online courses are not for everyone:

  1. Contrary to popular belief, online courses are just as hard and are more time consuming than traditional courses.
    • Rather than sitting in a physical classroom listening to your instructor lecture for 3 hours a week, you will be reading your lectures from a computer screen.
    • Online courses typically require much more reading and writing than traditional classes.
    • Instead of asking questions and receiving an instantaneous answer from your instructor, you will be either posting or emailing your questions. While most online instructors will respond to your concerns as soon as possible, you will need to be patient.
    • As you will not be in the classroom, you will need to be much more self-directed than it might seem. In other words, you have to take responsibility for your own learning.
  2. Some students truly need the face-to-face interaction with instructor and peers.
  3. Other students find that they lack the high level of responsibility it takes to tackle an online class.
  4. At a minimum, an online course requires students to use their time wisely, be organized, be self-directed, and be willing to try new modes of communication and learning.
  5. Successful students often use the weekly assignment sheets to create a course calendar so that they have an overview of all assignments. Good time management and planning are necessary skills.
  6. Students who do well are those who are willing to put in the needed time, read the text carefully (even the dull sections), and participate in the discussion boards the best they can.
  7. You will be expected to check your email frequently, get all assignments in on time, not allow yourself to fall behind at all, discuss your concerns and questions with instructor and classmates, perhaps arrange to swap email addresses with other students in the class, and participate fully each week.

The Best Things about Online Courses:

  1. Flexibility - for those of you unable to attend a regularly scheduled course, you will not be restricted by time and place - you get to do the weekly coursework when and where you want to do it.
  2. The asynchronous discussions allow everyone to have his/her say on the issues, and students can take the time to form thoughtful and clear opinions before sharing them with the rest of the class.
  3. No commuting to and from college: while others are driving in inclement weather or running through rain and snow to make it to class, you can be warm and dry working from your home computer.
  4. No transportation or parking problems to worry about.
  5. No need for childcare.

Minimum skills and equipment needed for a Successful Online Class Experience

What Mimimum equipment you will need:

  • Basic computer requirements include: At least a 2.0 GHz or faster processor; updated anti-virus software; 4 GB of RAM (memory) or greater; a 250 GB or larger hard drive (500 GB preferred); high-speed Internet connection; a video card and monitor with good resolution; a sound card with speakers; and a printer. Make sure your Java and Flash are up to date.
  • It's also best practices for online students to have a backup Internet source in mind—like a coffee shop or a friend’s house—in case you lose Internet connection at home. Remember to back up all of your important files to an external hard drive, flash drive, or cloud storage.

You should also have the following minimum skills:

  • Good basic computer and Internet skills:
    • Ability to install software on your computer.
    • Ability to download and install files from the Internet.
    • Excellent knowledge in navigating the Internet.
    • Proficient in use of search engines for research.
    • Ability to send and receive email with attachments.
    • File management skills: copy files from a flash drive or the Internet to a specific directory on the hard drive.
    • Word processing skills such as: how to create, save, find, print and edit documents.
  • If you need to upgrade your computer skills please consider taking one of the excellent introductory computer courses offered at COS.
  • The ability to read carefully and follow written instructions.
  • Self-motivation and self-discipline
    • Excellent time management skills.
    • Ability to be responsible for self-learning.

Tips to Ensure Online Success

  • Make sure you have a private space where you can study. This will help lend importance to what you are doing as well. It is very important to minimize all distractions to be able to focus on coursework.
  • Read and print out course syllabus. Be sure you understand all course policies, know how you will be graded, the instuctor's expectations and aware of important due dates.
  • Log on frequently. You should try to log on at least once a day (at least five days a week and more often if possible). Develop a logon routine that's comfortable with your schedule. online classes tend to generate a large number of emails and web announcements. If you don't log on for a few days you will be overwhelmed and might have trouble catching up.
  • Participate. You attend the online class by participating. You send messages and complete assignments before the due date; that's how you show that you are "present." If you remain silent then you are "absent."
  • Pay attention to deadlines. When you don't get your assignments in on time it causes other students who may need to read and comment on your work to also be late in their work.
  • Respond promptly to email. In the online environment you are invisible to the rest of the class. If you don't respond, people will think you didn't get the email or don't want to respond. When you respond it's like saying, "I'm here!" If you can't respond immediately, at least send a quick note saying "I received your message and will reply this evening." A little courtesy goes a long way.
  • Include the previous message when responding to emails. This will help the person receiving your response to refresh his or her memory about the original discussion. (Note: It is appropriate to include only the pertinent portion of the original message).
  • Don't change email addresses. Changing or using different email addresses only creates confusion and delays.
  • Identify yourself. Make sure that you sign your email with your full name (first and last). Email addresses cannot always be associated with the name of the sender.
  • Make your email subject lines meaningful. Use something in the subject line header that lets the receiver know which task you're submitting for his or her review; the title of the assignment as your subject line is always good. Always identify your class by putting the class number in the email subject line.
  • Accuracy. Double check email addresses. Sending email to the wrong address will cause the intended receiver to be cut out of the communication loop. If you send a URL make sure you cut and paste it in from the web page. Inaccurate URLs cause others to waste time trying to figure out why they can't get to the web page.
  • Read about the COS Library's services for distance students. Then follow the directions to request a library card so that you can access the Library's online databases, which includes periodicals, newspapers, electronic books and reference sources. Remember, you can always contact a reference librarian by submitting this form or call (530) 938-5331 for assistance in using the databases or help with research assignments.
  • Flexibility and calm. These are the hallmarks of successful online classroom experiences. Problems will arise and when they do, the ability to remain calm and being flexible in your thinking will keep them from becoming unmanageable. If you don't get an answer to your pleas for help right away, remain calm, wait 24 hours and if you still haven't resolved your problem or received help, send your instructor a message with the words "URGENT HELP" in the subject line. Instructors usually check email each day, but they can also receive several hundred emails a week. If your urgent message is not answered within 24-48 hours, email your instructor again.
  • Netiquette. Because the student and instructor can't see each other they lose much of the ability to read between the lines in their online communications. Without facial expressions and body language the written word can easily be misinterpreted. The use of emoticons is a good way to provide insight of your intent when composing emails. Look over the suggestions at: Wikipedia - Netiquette and Wikipedia - Emoticon.
  • Don't Flame. The purpose of class discussion boards is to learn from one another and hopefully gain an appreciation of another point of view. We all need to show respect for one another's opinions and be sensitive in our comments. If you receive an upsetting message, wait to respond for at least 24 hours. Waiting before responding will allow everyone to cool off and rethink the wisdom of sending their first response. Verbal attacks (flaming) is not to be tolerated. Let your instructor know if you feel you have been verbally abused by a classmate.
  • Make meaningful comments. During the semester you will likely be commenting on one another's work. Think of this as a chance to help one another. Meaningful comments will be appreciated by your classmates. Avoid comments like "Good ideas." Instead, list specific points that you thought were good, and suggest ways that the person can improve.
  • Have a back up plan. All computers eventually suffer failures. Have a plan in case yours goes down; know where you can find a back up computer in case of emergency and know how to operate its various programs. Back up or copy your homework to secondary storage regularly.