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Going Back to College - Online
(Continued from 1)

Also, the slower your computer system, the more time you should plan on spending on the class. Having a slow computer doesn’t necessarily have to stop you from taking an online class, though. Most local libraries have reasonably up-to-date equipment that is available to patrons. The university library and many other campus buildings also have computers for student use. If you are using a computer other than your own, make sure that you purchase a USB drive to back up your work. A small one works fine for transporting documents, since they tend to take up very little space. A USB, or “thumb”, drive generally can be purchased for thirty dollars or less. You can also check and see whether your online class program includes document storage.

-Attend an introduction to online classes seminar. Most universities offer a two to four hour seminar that teaches you the ins and outs of the program. It is worth it to clear your schedule for this event, because it will greatly decrease your learning curve.

-Know the syllabus. In face-to-face classes, the instructor will usually remind you of assignment due dates. In online classes, most instructors will send out regular emails that include reminders. However, this is not always the case. Make sure you know not only the dates, but the times that assignments are due. I once missed an assignment because I tried to turn it in at 8:03 and the assignment portal locked at 8 pm.

-Use the class forum. The class forum is a discussion group that is usually monitored by the instructor. In most classes, students enter an introduction letter, called a post, during the first week. Pay attention to these posts, since you may find study partners, people who are pursuing the same degree, or people who have the same life situation as you. This is also the place to ask questions, just as you would discuss the material in class and clear up anything confusing. In many classes there are also assignments through the forum, such as discussion questions to answer.

-Don’t be afraid to use on-campus services. As a returning student, it is not uncommon to need help brushing up on math skills. Also, academic writing is not like any form of writing used in the real world. Make full use of the math and writing labs on campus, as well as the online and brick-and-mortar library. The university Web site should have information about hours of operation and whether you need an appointment.

-If you’re having problems, address them immediately. Unlike an on-campus class, it is easy to get behind because there are no regularly scheduled meeting times, or to get stuck on a difficult assignment and not know who to contact. In both cases, email your instructor right away. They know the perils of online classes, and they know how to help you get back on track. They may even have office hours available to help you work through the problem face to face.

Like anything else, online classes aren’t perfect, but neither are on-campus classes. In my experience, though, I found that the instructors were just as good if not better, the material was just as easy to understand, and my grades were just as high with online classes as on-campus classes. I would never have been able to complete my degrees without them. Overall, online classes can be a wonderful way to get the education you deserve without giving up the life you’ve already built.

Kate Frishman is a freelance writer and editor residing in Bowling Green, Ohio. She maintains an online blog about editing, writing, and life.

See AlsoSee also, Online Classes: The Basics, and 5 Questions to Ask About Online Courses.

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