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What to Expect: Your First Week of School Online

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What to Expect:
Your First Week of School Online

Equipped with your class schedule in-hand, map of the campus, books in your arms for classes that day, and plenty of fresh paper to write on; a hot cup of coffee and some sleep the night before and you’re ready for your first week of school. Oh wait, wrong scenario; this is your first week of school online.

Being an online student means you don’t need to commute to a campus for classes each week, you don’t have heavy books to drag around with you, and there’s no need to worry about making it to class on time (or even worrying about what to wear). Navigating around the virtual classroom and the online campus can be difficult at first for some, but with time, assistance from support at your school, and webinars, you’ll be good to go in no time.

At an online university, the first week of classes is pretty similar to what you might experience at a brick and mortar institution. The main difference is that there is no face to face interaction, and you’re doing it all from your computer. Don’t let the digital platform fool you. It still takes a lot of discipline just like in other schools, brick and mortar especially, to get the class work turned in on time. You still need to complete writing assignments; and for some, time management becomes a new skill you need to refine in order to survive.

We recently caught up with Angel Garcia, a student at American Public University (APU), who went back to school to get his M.A. in Management. He filled us in about his first week of school online.

“This was my first time taking an online class. I heard through friends that you really needed to budget your personal time. When I initially reviewed the class syllabus I was a little concerned about the workload, however, after the first couple weeks I got into the groove of the class and switched around some personal things to make time for class.”

As with most experiences in college, life gets in the way. An online school is no exception. Even though the class starts at APU are more flexible, (courses start monthly that last for either six or eight weeks), it means more personal responsibility. Instead of having to attend class on a regular basis so you don’t get marked off for non-attendance, you have to log into the classroom for assignment completion and discussion board posting.

“Part of the curriculum for APU is weekly discussions. Generally in the first week you introduce yourself, where you reside at, and your tenure in the degree program. I received encouragement from other senior students,” said Garcia. Most online schools grade students through weekly assignments, discussion board participation, papers and exams. It seems similar to what you would find at a brick and mortar school, but the main difference is there is no physical attendance and you alone have to motivate yourself to log in every week and complete your assignments.

For most online students three classes is considered a full course load. The amount of classes a student chooses to take at a time varies on the degree level they’re trying to obtain and their other obligations such as work and family. This still means there is a lot of time and effort involved, especially when you don’t have three or four months to complete a few classes, instead you have a matter of weeks. Online course work is more involved because you have a new assignment every week usually, as opposed to traditionally just having a mid-term and a final with the possibility of quizzes in-between.

“I enrolled in three classes my first semester. I didn’t want to double up because I wanted to be successful in each class,” said Garcia. “Do not underestimate the workload of the class. Just because it’s an online university, there is a lot of time you have to commit to it. Manage your time and don’t become complacent and you will succeed.”

With the first week of classes, Garcia recommends “asking your counselor for the syllabus or research for the required books you need because there is generally an assignment due the first day of class.” If the workload looks like it may be too much, it might be best to consult with an advisor on what works best with your schedule.

There is also a great support staff for students at online universities. Just like other schools, there are student advisors that will explain the process to you, what classes you need to take to achieve your goals, and any other guidance you might expect. But in order to encourage progression, students need to connect with their advisors as needed. It’s the responsibility of the student to contact their advisor when they have questions, need assistance or advice on changing degree paths, or need tutoring and counseling services. Staying in touch by phone or e-mail is crucial. This also goes for communication with your professors.

Just like students, professors in the online environment have to work harder too. They’re dedicating themselves to a format that doesn’t allow them to meet their students face to face. Distance educators are also expected to dedicate a number of hours each week to the online classroom. It’s not as easy as a mass posting of assignments, then sitting back and grading what comes in. Online professors dedicate themselves to the online format by refining communication skills, time management and making themselves available (in the virtual sense.) They can achieve this level of accessibility by responding to your discussion posts, chatting with you through the online classroom chat feature or replying to an e-mail. It takes a lot of time and dedication on their part, not to mention devotion to research, in order to create virtual lesson plans. Most people are mobile with their computers and e-mails, making this form of communication more accessible.

If you’re looking for a place to unwind from classes your first week then look into exploring the online campus. Online you can stop and have a coffee break whenever you like, from the convenience of your own home. You can “attend class” from a coffee shop, outdoors, or anywhere you choose that has an internet connection. As for upcoming events, or chatting with fellow students, most online schools have a virtual student lounge where they can congregate and communicate with other distance learners. There are also university-run student groups, honor societies, and an abundance of social media groups to join.

Your first week of school is what you make it. Keep your motivation in check and reach out when help is needed. Going back to school doesn’t have to be an ordeal – take some courses online and see for yourself.

– By J. Mason, Online Learning Tips Staff Editor

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