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Ahead of the Curve: Success in the Online, Eight-Week Course


By Craig Gilman
Faculty Member at American Public University

Online Learning Tips Guest Contributor

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ~ Chinese proverb.  As a professor at American Public University nothing gives me more satisfaction than knowing I have helped students take a step toward their academic goals.  Nothing is more frustrating than seeing otherwise capable students stumble along the path.  There may be a number of obstacles along the way.  Some are inevitable.  Most are avoidable. Based on my experience as a professor working with entry-level students and those who transfer into the online environment, taking the following steps will definitely enhance a student’s odds of success.

Week Zero (Before the term starts)

Plan your time wisely.

  • Begin by planning to spend about 12-15 hours, per course, per week for eight week courses.
  • Identify times available for study and schedule accordingly.  Write it down!
  • Share your goals and explain your commitment to your family, friends and colleagues.

Week One

Get off to a good start. The first week of a course is often one of the busiest and most important.

  • Visit and review the classroom on day one, even if you cannot study that day.
  • Use the course syllabus to create and post a written schedule where you will see it regularly.
  • Read any announcements, messages, or other information provided by the professor.
  • Familiarize yourself with the remainder of the classroom.
  • If required, post your introduction and reply to others in the forum.
  • Visit your classroom each day to check for messages and announcements from the professor.
  • Learn your professor’s name and contact information.  Say hi!
  • Complete assignments according to the guidance and directions provided.

Week Two

Surround yourself with success.

  • Identify students who share the same degree program or career field.  They make good study partners.
  • Review comments made by the professor in your gradebook or on assignments from week one.
  • Consider the requirements for any long-term projects and begin preparation for them.
  • Spend time in the online library and other resources.

Week Three

Step up your game.

  • Now that you are familiar with the classroom, make a concerted effort to do your best.
  • Plan for any mid-term assessments as they are one week away.
  • Dedicate some time to end-of-term assessments.

Week Four

Assess your progress and make any necessary adjustments.

  • Contact the professor with any questions you might have based on the feedback provided.
  • Review your participation and interaction in the forums.  Note and respond to those who replied to your discussion.  Respectfully consider responses to questions you might have asked others.
  • Are you comprehending and retaining the course content?
  • You are half way there! Consider all that you have accomplished.

Week Five

Look forward.

  • Review your academic plan or contact your academic advisor to register for next term’s courses.
  • Take note of what study and time managements techniques are productive and what are not.

Week Six

Crunch time.

  • Review your gradebook, not only for professor guidance, but to ensure that all properly submitted assignments have been received and recorded.
  • Ensure that you are making sufficient progress on end-of-term projects, such as research papers or preparation for finals.

Week Seven

You are almost there.

  • Do not allow yourself to become overwhelmed.
  • Dedicate time to end-of-term assessments.

Week Eight

Cross the finish line.

  • Submit any remaining assignments and review your gradebook.
  • Trade contact information with colleagues you wish to maintain in your professional network.
  • Send a thank you to the professor; you never know when you might study with him or her again.
  • Save useful course resources from the classroom.
  • Thank your friends and office colleagues for their support.
  • Reward yourself for your efforts.

As a professor I find that those students who put in a legitimate effort and follow the guidance above are those that succeed.


About Craig:

Craig Gilman is currently an online, adjunct who teaches COLL100 and for the School of Education for American Public University System.  A veteran who served in the United States Marine Corps, he is a former, certified public school, secondary social studies teacher with an MS Education and MA International Relations from Old Dominion University.