You Must Participate

Jacinda has just been accepted into the Career Development Practitioner program at Conestoga College. I could hear the excitement in her voice as she spoke to me on the telephone. “The kids are in school all day, and I can spend as much time as I want on the online courses. I don’t have to get in the car and I can work at my own pace. Best of all, I don’t have to worry about participating in class discussions!” A recent immigrant, Jacinda still struggles with her spoken English.

While no one can dispute the convenience factor, participation is a key component of all online courses. Many instructors specify the minimum number of postings required and often allocate a percentage of the final mark to online participation. Also, an instructor will remember a student who has a strong online presence and be more inclined to give her a positive reference. I would give Jacinda and other students who are considering online courses the following advice:

Plan Ahead

Make sure that you have the correct software and hardware needed before beginning an online class. Your computer system should have a high speed connection and be able to receive streamed audio and video files. If webinars are part of the curriculum, you will also need a microphone and speakers.

Obtain the required texts and print out the syllabus. Read the information carefully, taking note of the instructor’s contact information, assignments, deadlines, and final evaluation. Do not wait until the first day of the course to test the program. Practice logging in beforehand and familiarize yourself with all the program’s features and basic tasks such as opening and sending emails, copying and pasting documents.

Log In Daily

During the first two weeks of the semester, log into your class on a daily basis. Communication is a critical component of online courses and if you don’t access the home page regularly, you can miss out on announcements and other important information. Do not assume that all courses will have the same setup; the structure will depend upon the individual instructor and he/she will set the tone very early in the semester.

Participate

Post regularly to the discussion board. In most courses, you will be required to participate at least once each week. Read the lessons carefully and then create your post. At first, you may find it awkward to work directly on the discussion board. Draft the post in a word processing program and proofread it carefully, checking for spelling and grammar. Copy and paste the post onto the discussion board.

Read all the other posts on the board and make suitable comments. Print out any well written posts and analyze them carefully. Familiarize yourself with emoticons (*) and use them appropriately. Contact the instructor if you experience any confusion with the course material or delivery system.

If you are required to work in a group, take the initiative and contact the other students. Do not wait for someone else to take charge and delegate tasks. Decide what role you are willing to assume and state your preferences. Be aware that the level of commitment will vary and you may find yourself in a group where one or two members do most of the work.

Use Your Time Wisely

Do not assume that your online class will be less demanding than the face-to-face version. In fact, the opposite may be true. In addition to the regular assignments, you must also allocate time for participation on the discussion board. Use an agenda to keep track of assignments, posting days and other course reminders. Start assignments early and give yourself enough time to research, write and polish the final submission. Whenever possible, post at least 24 hours before the deadline.

*Emoticons -- http://messenger.msn.com/Resource/Emoticons.aspx

Canadian Newcomer Issue 44