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Academic Advising Center

Strategies for Success in Online Courses

Versión en español de Estrategias Para El Éxito En Los Cursos En Línea

“Remember that in a virtual world, real humans do exist! What I mean by that is that we all tend to forget that we really can reach out to the human on the other screen; that we are here to help students, whether an individual student is handling things with minimal difficulty or if it seems like the entire world is conspiring against them. Share the load by putting some of the weight on our shoulders.” – Matthew F. Jacobs, Department of History, and Bob Graham Center for Public Service

Below you’ll find tips for:

  1. General strategies for success in online learning,
  2. Strategies for making connections with both students & instructors,
  3. Ways to be successful in asynchronous & synchronous classes, and
  4. Links to helpful videos.

1. General Strategies

Set Up for Success

  • Read syllabuses promptly, so you know what to expect from each class.
  • Make a calendar of your workflow. Gauge how much time you’ll need for assignments, readings, viewings, zoom meetings, etc. Note deadlines & exam dates. You can use the Calendar function in Canvas for this (see the video in #4 below).
  • Identify more challenging classes early on to know how you will allocate your time.
  • Don’t procrastinate. You need to be well-organized, probably more so than with traditional classes.
  • Check daily. Check your email, canvas announcements, & calendar in each of your classes daily to make sure you keep on top of work & potential changes. Don’t let your work pile up!
    • “Keep a calendar and follow a routine schedule,
    • Introduce yourselves to your professors even through an email,
    • Do not procrastinate,
    • Study!,
    • Read all the materials the teacher asks of you, and
    • Put effort into online discussions.” – William O., 2nd Year, Agricultural Communication and Leadership
  • Set up exams early & test your technology. For some online exams, you need to schedule an exam time (which fill quickly). For all online exams, you need to test that your technology works with the proctoring system.
  • Have a quiet space for completing coursework. Essentially, you want to recreate the in-class environment as best you can. Additionally, in most classes, you will need an appropriate place for taking online exams using Honor Lock or ProctorU.
  • Use office hours. If you are having trouble with any element of online learning (technology, content, instructions, etc.), go to your instructor’s and teaching assistants’ office hours.
  • Reach out to your instructors & your fellow students in every way you can — discussion chats, email & live classes. Create a study group if you can. Creating personal connections will make online learning more fun & effective.
  • Communicate right away if you have an issue with an illness, family emergency, etc. Don’t wait until right before your assignment is due or until the end of the semester to disclose an issue to your instructors.
  • Go outside. Set your circadian rhythms by going to bed and getting up at a regular time. Go outside every morning. Being online can throw off your sleep cycle, so you need to get outside in the sunshine (or clouds or rain) periodically as though you were walking to in-person classes.
  • Have patience. Realize that this may be just as new for your instructor as it is for you! Let them know if something on the course site isn’t working as it should & be patient with them as they learn, too.
  • Take breaks. Just as your in-person courses have set periods & breaks, incorporate those practices in your online studies. Don’t chain yourself to your computer.

Avoid Errors & Address Problems

  • Submit assignments early. Internet connectivity, slow upload, & other unanticipated issues may arise. These are not automatically a reason for an extension or an excused absence.
  • Double-check your submissions. Make it a habit after submitting an assignment to close your browser, log out, & log back in. See if everything you submitted is there.
  • “I am currently taking three asynchronous courses and I would seriously encourage students to make their own structure immediately! It can be nerve racking and stressful (trust me I know) but it is important to make a solid schedule and read all the syllabi!” Taeja G., 2nd Year, Psychology

  • Take pictures when things go wrong online. While the Helpdesk can usually assist you, they generally won’t be able to show your instructor what actually occurred.
  • Don’t use the mobile Canvas app to do anything important (taking quizzes, turning in assignments). It does not always work but it may look like it worked.
  • Check your internet speed – The official internet speed requirement from ZOOM is 2 to 6 Mbps but we suggest always have at least 10Mbps. Check your internet speed at which is pretty accurate.
  • Download VPN if your instructor is using Course Reserves (see VPN Clients). You don’t need to pay for access to journal readings.
  • Trouble with Bluetooth? Some older computers have one audio/video card that cause interference when students use Bluetooth devices. Try turning off Bluetooth headphones to see if it makes a difference.

2. Connect with Other Students

  • Find study buddies. They can keep you accountable & engaged. They can also remind you of upcoming assignments you may have overlooked. Take advantage of discussion boards & class lists, look for folks you may know from where you live, your previous classes or student organizations. Make a plan to work together (of course, only on assignments & projects where you are permitted to collaborate).
  • Use discussion boards. Ask your instructor to create a discussion board where students who are interested in forming study groups can post their study approach & find a group.

3. Connect with Instructors

“I’d suggest that students take advantage of any opportunity for virtual office hours. Students can get their questions answered, sure, but the benefits go both ways: we instructors want to be able to meet our students and get a sense of who they are, where they’re at, and what they need. That’s something that’s really difficult in online delivery, where communication can too easily become one-directional.” – Norman A. Douglas, Department of Biology

  • Have regular check-ins during your instructors’ office hours.
  • Have conversations with your instructors in addition to talking about class material & assignments. Ask them how they are doing & answer questions they have about you. You may find you share common interests. Professors who know your interests may inform you about campus programs, activities, or other opportunities like fellowships & scholarships. Most importantly, a professor who knows their students writes better letters of recommendation.
  • “Go to **virtual** office hours! Professors like meeting people and they will appreciate you putting in that extra effort to see them through zoom, even if you don’t have questions.” – Emilio Q., 3rd Year, Applied Physiology and Kinesiology

  • Make an appointment if you cannot make your professor’s scheduled office hours.
  • Have good email etiquette. Always use a new subject line, address instructors respectfully (Prof. A or Dr. B) & specify what class & section you are taking with them. Be concise.

4. Asynchronous Classes (no live Zoom meetings)

  • Create a structured weekly study schedule. Otherwise, it is very easy for “out of sight, out of mind” to set in & to get behind in the course.
  • Spread content over multiple days, even if the course is in module format where everything is due every week or two, the content is likely still designed to be done in a certain order over a number of days.
  • Don’t let assignments pile up. Make a schedule so you can spread them out & stay on top of them.
  • Work just as hard. Remember online classes are not easier than in-person classes, they are just more convenient.
  • Engage as you would in a regular live class. If it’s lecture/video-based, practice active listening & take thorough notes. Take notes on the reading.
  • Attend office hours. It’s even more important when you don’t have regular times to see your instructors.

5. Synchronous Classes (live Zoom meetings)

  • “Always dress appropriately. Sometimes professors will ask students to get up and move around or interact in some way and it’s important that students dress appropriately as if they were attending the class in person.
  • Try to keep your camera on. Using the camera feature is useful for instructors because then they are able to pick up on non-verbal cues, body language, and facial expressions that may suggest some students do not understand what is going on. It’s also respectful and promotes a more positive and interactive online environment.
  • Be intentional about your location. If possible, pick a professional setting. Your Zoom environment should be well lit, separate from roommates and other people, and in front of a plain background. Do not Zoom from bed.” – Rebecca Schlafke, 3rd Year, Education – Schools, Society and Policy
  • Mute your mic until you are asked to participate. This prevents background noise from interrupting or distracting your classmates.
  • Avoid distractions. Sit upright & avoid eating or engaging in other activities, such as walking around the house or being on your phone (which should be silenced) during class time.
  • Use your full name, especially at the start of the semester when you & your professors and classmates are all getting to know each other.
  • Add pronouns to your Zoom name. If you choose, this can be done under “Profile” in Zoom settings. Just add your pronouns right next to your last name.
  • Learn the best ways to communicate. Find out whether the instructor wants to use the chat or the raise hands feature(s) & exactly how they want you to use each. Be courteous in the chat, it can be saved by the instructor.
  • Get accommodations if needed. If there are personal circumstances that prevent you from having the camera on, contact your professor. If your request to not have your camera on is due to a disability, contact the DRC & submit a request for an accommodation.
  • Let your professor know if you do not want to be video-recorded, so that you can arrange when & how you can turn off your video &/or audio.
  • Attempt to rejoin if you have connectivity problems or get dropped out of the meeting. If you are unable to, you can try the call-in option from a phone to participate with audio. If neither of these options works, email your instructor immediately & explain the issue.

5. Helpful Videos