Now that classes have moved online at Hofstra University and at colleges and universities throughout the nation, Rebecca Natow, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy, has advice for college students with questions about the transition.
Ironically, Dr. Natow coauthored an article in 2019, “Technology Use in Developmental Education: Experiences, Challenges, and Rationales,” for the Community College Journal of Research and Practice. She has also posted about online education on Twitter.
- Do not hesitate to email your instructor with any questions, concerns, or feedback you may have about the online course. Instructors rely on student feedback to improve their teaching practice, particularly when using innovative educational technologies or when a particular course has not previously been taught online. If you have questions, concerns, or feedback about the content, technology, or other aspects of your online course, please email your instructor. This is especially important to do in an asynchronous online course, because instructors will not have the benefit of interacting with students in real-time to gauge their understanding of the materials and comfort level with course technologies.
- Contact your institution’s Help Desk or Information Technology (IT) office for support if you need it. Technical difficulties happen. When they happen to students in an online course, these difficulties can disrupt the learning process and cause additional stress for students. Reach out to your institution’s student IT support staff or “Help Desk” to assist you with technical difficulties you may encounter in your online course. Many institutions also post IT support “frequently asked questions” and other advice on their website, so it is worth checking to see if your institution has posted something that addresses your question before calling for technical support.
- Develop (and stick to) a time management plan. It is sometimes tempting to procrastinate with completing assignments for an online course. In asynchronous courses (courses where the students and their instructor do not have to be online at the same time or any specific time), students are given a range of days in which to complete their work for a given unit or module. With multiple responsibilities and other courses competing for students’ time, it is understandable that the work for an asynchronous online course might be put off while dealing with more immediate demands. But if the work for an online course is postponed for too long, students risk submitting incomplete assignments or becoming inundated with a great deal of work at the last minute. Developing and adhering to a time management plan can help you to balance your workload, complete work at a reasonable pace, and devote sufficient time for completing assignments for your online course.
- Plan to spend more time reading and writing in your asynchronous online course. Because asynchronous online courses do not take place in real-time, students should plan to spend more time reading and writing than they would in a face-to-face or synchronous online course (a course where the students and instructor meet together at an appointed time). This is because asynchronous online courses often make use of discussion forums, blogs, and similar text-based online tools to engage in class discussion, ask and answer questions, and reflect on the learning experience. Whereas interactive discussions and question-and-answer sessions in a face-to-face environment may take only a small amount of time, students are likely to find that reading and writing their way through discussions, questions, and answers in an asynchronous online course is more time-consuming than they expected.
- Enhance bandwidth by connecting your computer directly to an Internet router or closing other applications. Participating in a synchronous class session using your webcam or viewing videos in an online course may be difficult if you have a low-bandwidth connection. This may result in frozen screens, distorted audio, delays, dropped connections, and/or other technical difficulties. You can enhance your bandwidth by connecting your computer directly to an Internet router or wired device rather than relying on wifi or cellular for your connection. If you are experiencing low bandwidth during a class session, you can mute your microphone, disable your webcam, and/or close other computer applications.
- Other technical difficulties may be addressed by using a different device or web browser. Sometimes technical difficulties arise because of problems with the computer or web browser you are using. If this is the case, then switching to a new computer or web browser (if you are able to do so) might resolve the technical difficulties. Additionally, sometimes clearing the cache of your Internet browser can improve its performance.
- Visit the website of your class’s learning management system or video conferencing software for tips on using the technology. Whether your instructor uses Blackboard, Zoom, or another product for video conferencing and otherwise managing your online class, the software company’s website is often a useful resource for advice about how to use the technology. These websites often contain information about how to use the product and its features as well as answers to frequently asked questions and other tips for users. Finding the support page of the software manufacturer is as easy as typing the product name and the word “support” into an Internet search engine.
- Remember that communication is key! Taking an online course involves a different kind of communication with your instructor. Instead of meeting face-to-face in a classroom, you will be meeting virtually, through the medium of technology. It is important to maintain communication with your instructor, either via email, discussion boards, blogs, or other methods of communication that have been set up for your course. If you have questions about course requirements, problems with technology, or any other concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact your instructor. Communication is key to a meaningful educational experience in an online course!