Home Education Options The Online Student’s Guide to Handling Catastrophe
The Online Student’s Guide to Handling Catastrophe

The Online Student’s Guide to Handling Catastrophe


online-student-catastropheBy Dr. Angela M. Gibson
Professor at American Public University

If you are an online college student, you have joined the ranks of 7.1 million e-learners in the United States taking at least one online course (Allen & Seaman, 2013). Approximately one in three of all those in higher education are enrolled in an online class.

Online learning makes it possible to pursue higher education goals anywhere there is Internet access. It’s also ideal for students with time constraints, such as those with shift work or unpredictable family and caretaker obligations.

Even with the access and more flexible schedule of online learning, there can be challenges. When you are an online student and taking classes alone on your computer and you hit a roadblock, what do you do? The following is a guide on how to get help as an online student.

When They Cut the Wire

You scheduled your week of learning for the class. Things are going well and you are on time with your planned progression through the lesson and required reading. You are confident there is time to research and draft, then edit and submit, that big research paper. All of a sudden the Internet goes out. Not the power–the Internet, only the Internet.  You wait, you unplug and re-plug, and you reboot your router. Nothing. At this point you call your Internet service provider and find out that indeed there is a service outage due to construction down the road that cut the line to your neighborhood. And, by the way, it may take two or three days to restore service. Panic ensues.

Do not panic. There is hope yet! First get on a mobile device if you have one and send a message to your instructor. Hopefully you saved a copy of the class syllabus and your instructor’s email or phone number for such situations. If you didn’t remember to do that before now, write that on a sticky note and make sure to complete those important tasks once the Internet is restored.

If you can’t find the information to contact your instructor and have no mobile device, call the school and ask for your professor’s contact information. It may be easiest to connect with your advisor, who can get a message to your professors while you work things out. Your next step is to locate the nearest free Wi-Fi and head there with your laptop or mobile device. Alternatively, you can find the nearest local library and use their computers and Internet connection.

Once you are back on line, first contact your professors by email and second get into class and do as much work as you can. Breathe. Breathe again.

When the Computer Eats Your Homework

It’s a really intense week and your three classes have a large assignment due all at the same time. All your work is saved to your computer. The files are attached to the item in the class. You keep clicking submit in the classroom and nothing happens, except that little spinning thing going around and around and around. You clear your cookies and cache and reboot, but that does not help.

Help is a phone call away from the university’s help desk or classroom support. Explain the issue. Ask the help desk rep to send a message to your professor informing her or him that you are working with the help desk team to fix this problem.

This alerts the faculty that there is an issue and that you are working to submit your assignments. Once the issue is fixed, always send a thank you message to classroom support. You never know when you may need technical support from them again.

The Elusive Source

There’s an assignment and you are required to either use the college library or include at least 10 credible outside sources in your paper or project. First issue — you haven’t yet used the college library online. Second issue — you aren’t quite sure what a credible source is. At this point, you want to take a face plant into your keyboard.

Instead of watching as the cursor on your screen blinks and mocks you as you become more anxious, contact the institution’s library. Expert librarians are waiting to work with students. The will help you learn how to use the online library and how to locate credible sources.

Librarians have a wealth of information. Be ready to write things down or follow along on the computer and bookmark as you take a guided tour of the site. Know that the more you work with librarians and use the campus online library, they easier and quicker your research work will become.

Every student will encounter at least one challenging scenario during their time online. Knowing your resources, being aware of whom to contact, and having multiple points of contact (phone, email, etc.) available to you in hard copy as well as online will greatly cut down your anxiety, lower your stress, and help you to overcome any number of catastrophes.

Remember to always keep your professor informed of any potential challenges to your learning and your progress in the class.

About the Author

Dr. Angela Gibson is a professor for the School of Arts and Humanities at American Public University. She has previously worked at community colleges, private institutions of higher education, and state universities teaching face-to-face, blended, and fully online courses teaching first-year as well as master’s and doctoral students. Dr. Gibson serves as a facilitator and mentor for the Online Learning Consortium, publishes, and presents at national and international education conferences. She received a B.A. in International Relations from George Mason University, a Masters of Arts in Human Performance Systems, with a Graduate Certificate in Instructional Design, from Marymount University, and an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, with concentrations in adult education, higher education, and community college education, from Texas A & M University – Kingsville. Find her on Twitter at @AgilistaAG.

This article has been reposted from BlogHer with permission from the author.



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