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Lorie WitkopOnline Classes: The Basics

by Lorie Witkop

While searching for graduate degree programs in order to keep my teaching certification current, I weighed attending my first-choice school against remaining free to relocate. The answer to my divided interests came from an Online MA in Education. I was a little nervous about doing something so different and new, but I was also excited by the possibilities and decided to try it out. Now, having completed my degree, you might have a hard time getting me to go back to a traditional classroom!

There are many different styles of online classes, but there are a few things that are constant among all classes. Learning more about the basics of online classes can help you decide if they're right for you, and once you enroll, let you get the most out of the experience.

Getting Started
Before you even register for a class, there should be a website that lists any technical requirements. Especially take note of any required software.
For instance, one professor required us to download a particular application so that we could listen to recorded comments. Several other classes asked us to post assignments to the web, so web-authoring software was helpful. Knowing about these technical requirements ahead of time will prevent any unnecessary stumbling blocks as you begin your new learning adventure. Don't miss out because your outdated browser can't support features on the class website or e-mails are going to a schoolaccount you haven't activated yet.

The Class Website
All online classes will have a class Website that serves as the class meeting place. Some schools use commercial products like Blackboard, while others create their own interface. The instructor will post readings and assignments here, you'll have class discussions, and you might even upload your homework to this site. Once it's time for the class to begin, the first thing you should do is familiarize yourself with your virtual classroom. Check out the site's features and make sure that you can perform required tasks like posting to a discussion board or opening up the chat room. Consider the time you spend just exploring the class Website an investment in your future success with the class.

Assignments and Deadlines
Of course, in addition to getting used to all the technical features of your class Website, you should also read the syllabus and assignments to get a sense of upcoming work and deadlines. Notice whether class readings will be provided for you online or if you will need to purchase any textbooks. Readings and assignments are usually organized by week, just like in a face-to-face class. Depending on the class, there may also be deadlines within each week. For example, you may be asked to read several articles and post a response by Tuesday, post a reply in the discussion forum by Wednesday and then write a summary of your thoughts by Friday. While staying organized and being aware of deadlines is important for any class you take, it's even more vital to an online class because you won't have any in-person reminders.

Online Community
Many class Websites have a place for you to upload a picture and personal profile. Some classes will turn introductions into the first assignment. Take full advantage of any official tools like this, and if your class doesn't provide a getting-to-know-you assignment take the initiative to say hello through e-mail or a post on the class discussion boards. It takes a little more effort to get to know your classmates when you can't just turn to the person sitting next to you and say hi, but it is definitely worth it in terms of the connections you'll make.


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