Friday, March 30, 2012

First Online Class After Being Laid Off? Yes You Can Succeed!

Going Back to School After Being Laid Off - Photo by Jason V on Wikimedia Commons
Many of my online students are displaced workers. They might have worked twenty or more years, planning to retire in a few years. Those plans of retirement after faithfully working for most of one's adult life came abruptly to a halt as the place of business announced that it would be closing its doors forever. Although the announcement was not completely unexpected with the economy's downturn, it hit hard. Really hard. Now what?

Going back to school has been a solution for many misplaced workers who find themselves starting over. Experience in a dead job does not pay the bills and unemployment benefits do not last forever. Returning to school has provided the answer for many of these hard-working, dedicated folks who have been dealt a tough hand.

"I haven't been in school in over twenty years. I'm not sure that I can do this." I get these sorts of messages every semester. It is natural to fear the unknown, but I have found over and over again that students who fall in this category typically have amazing resilience, a great work ethic, and absolutely can excel in online classes by following a few tips.

How to Prepare for an Online Class - Photo by Kenny Swartout on Wikimedia Commons
Before taking an online class

Misplaced workers often have a wealth of services available to them. Make sure to research what help is available and get good, sound advice. Carefully choose classes that will be useful to one's future aspirations. Many classes sound similar but only certain ones may count toward a major area of study, degree, or certification.

Campuses typically offer computer coaches on campus, via telephone, and/or through email, which can be very helpful to those who have little or no computer knowledge. Taking a basic computer class, some of which may be offered for free, can help folks become familiar with common computer terms, shortcuts, and can offer valuable practice with the opportunity to ask questions and get helpful answers. Be familiar with using a scroll bar, drop down menu, and other common ways of moving around on the computer screen. Getting some practice with a typing tutor can be quite helpful in improving speed on the keyboard as well.

If you have a computer that you plan to use for an online class, ensure that it meets minimum requirements for an online class. The college will typically have a preferred browser, such as Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer. You may need to download certain programs. Some class documents may be created in a program like Microsoft Word or Excel. Although some online classes may have these documents in a form that can be accessed from any computer, students who do not have those programs on their computers might find it helpful to access the class the first couple of times on campus in order to print the course calendar, syllabus, etc.

If the college offers an orientation class, utilize it. These are designed to give students a hands-on look at how online classes work and usually give you the opportunity to practice a variety of student tasks, such as finding documents, participating in discussions or forums, submitting a document, taking a quiz, etc.

If you have access to the online instructor's email, feel free to send him or her a message before class starts introducing yourself. Plan to purchase textbooks and other required materials, if applicable, before class starts. Be careful about purchasing textbooks online and in other places – a few online classes require a code to get into the class and the code is typically tied to the purchase of the textbook.

Anyone with special needs related to a disability may be eligible for certain reasonable accommodations; however, the student should notify the college of these special needs per the school's disability services. The college may also offer tutoring services upon request. Take advantage of these great opportunities – some of these services may be free!

Tips for Successfully Completing an Online Class - Photo from Wikimedia Commons
What to do when an online class starts

The college will identify a start date for the class. Plan to enter the class on the date that it begins. Any student that has not accessed the class by a certain date will usually not be allowed to enter after that point. The class should have a syllabus, a calendar of assignments, and how establish communication with the online instructor. Additional important information regarding how the class works may be located near these documents.

Plan to carefully examine class documents and familiarize yourself with the layout of the online classroom. The vast majority of questions will more than likely be answered by these initial documents for the class. Although the class may look completely foreign initially, after a few weeks, you'll get into a routine, and the various parts of the class will become much more familiar to you. Be careful not to click on any quizzes or tests unless you are ready to take them and are sure that you have enough time to complete them.

If the instructor gives students the opportunity to receive the announcements or news feeds via email, ensure that you have information entered into the system to allow that to happen. Instructors may email reminders of assignments or other important details within the class via the announcements or news feeds, and this can be a helpful reminder to ensure that you complete assignments on time.

How to Avoid Problems in an Online Class
If problems arise in an online class

The majority of problems are usually avoided by completing the above steps. Most of my students who are displaced workers tend to be highly motivated, organized, and have a wealth of practical experience to enhance class discussions. Once they find their way around the online classroom and become comfortable using a computer, they tend to successfully complete complete assignments. However, a few problems may arise, so here are some helpful tips to avoid problems in an online class:

Complete assignments well before due dates. It can be quite helpful to print the calendar of assignments and develop a schedule for completing each one. Many of my students highlight each assignment as they complete them so that they will have a visual display of what assignments have been completed and which ones are still pending. Feel free to email the instructor if something does not match. If an assignment or score is supposed to be visible and is not, a setting might be incorrect, but the instructor may not know that tweaking is necessary unless questioned by a student.

Dedicate specific days of the week and/or times of the day to complete assignments. Mark these on your calendar just as you might mark an important appointment or meeting. Displaced workers are often juggling numerous responsibilities at home, and assignments can easily be missed. If you know that you may be particularly busy during a certain point in the semester, you might wish to notify the online instructor well before the due date to see if the instructor might be willing to extend the availability of an assignment, but realize that extensions may be rare depending on the type and size of class.

Carefully read all directions for completing assignments. For example, some tests might have more than one correct answer. Discussions or forums, group projects, tests, or other assignments typically have specific instructions. The instructor will typically identify whether a test allows multiple attempts or if only one attempt will be granted. Be careful to follow honor code policies throughout the course. If a grading rubric is provided, carefully study that document to determine how to earn maximum points.

Avoid plagiarism and copyright violations. Many people who have been in the workforce for many years may find written assignments in particular to be a bit difficult. Be careful not to copy information and images from the textbook, online sources, or other places unless you have specific permission to do so with proper citations. Most instructors are looking for original work. If you truly understand the material, you should be able to put that information into your own words. Tutors can be quite helpful with writing skills.

Take advantage of opportunities for extra points. Most students plan to complete all assignments and may think that they would not need any extra credit; however, if an instructor offers the opportunity for extra credit or optional study resources, it can be to your advantage to complete these assignments. These opportunities can help a student earn extra points and/or may help one to understand the material to a fuller extent. I have seen a couple of extra points make the difference in a letter grade for quite a few of my students.

Ask questions if you have them. Online instructors are at a disadvantage because they cannot read body language of students. If an instructor is teaching a traditional class, he or she can usually easily tell the difference between a student who is sleeping in class and one who is sincerely trying but does not completely understand the directions. Whenever a student fails to complete an online assignment, the instructor may not know whether that person has decided to drop the course, could not find where to complete the assignment, or simply forgot to complete it. That instructor may assume that all students understand assignments unless he or she hears otherwise, so maintaining effective communication can be helpful in troubleshooting any problems that might arise. Contacting the instructor two weeks before the deadline is more likely to get favorable results than emailing the instructor 15 minutes before the due date. If the online instructor has listed a home phone number for contact, ensure that you call at an appropriate time of day.

How to Succeed in First Online Class - Photo by Gordon Griffiths at Wikimedia Commons
Succeeding in an online class

Yes, taking an online class may seem like a huge step for someone who is going back to school after many years in the work force. Don't let the fear of the unknown prevent you from achieving your goals. Most careers today involve using computers, so an online class may give you helpful experience with computers in addition to knowledge of your chosen field of study. Some of my students who are displaced workers tell me that being laid off was one of the best things that ever happened to them because it gave them the opportunity to do something that they had only dreamed of doing in the past.

I wish you the best and hope that you find these tips to be helpful in helping you to meet your future goals! Find more great resources in the Student Survive 2 Thrive site map.

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