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Back to School: The Top Ten Things to Know About Online University Classes

Blog Authors: Wendy Schmidt and Mary Cluff

When the pandemic started, universities across the country closed their doors to their classes and opened portals to their online classes.  Over 7 million up from 2.4 million students suddenly found themselves taking online classes! It was a whole new world! While many students are back in traditional classrooms, the trend toward online learning has only grown. As long-time online instructors, here are the Top Ten things we’d love you to know about online schooling:

  1. Online classes are built as “learning management systems.” This is the backbone, if you will, on which everything happens—from discussions to assignment submissions. Here are some samples: CanvasMoodleBlackboardD2L
  2. You’ll need at least a desktop, laptop or tablet to make it all work and easy access to great wi-fi.  (Did you know if you received a Pell Grant, you may qualify for free internet?  Check eligibility here.) 
  3. A phone is not enough! You can’t write research papers on a phone or create presentations on a phone.
  4. Online classes will have due dates…perhaps in different time zones, and you will interact with people all over the country, even sometimes in different countries. Prepare to channel your inner geographer.
  5. Your school will provide lots of resources, especially if it has been doing online classes for a while. Schools know what online students need: math labs, writing centers, career centers and especially an easy way to contact instructors, other classmates, advisors, and tech support.
  6. Universities abide by the policies of the American with Disabilities Act. Additionally, two resources to be aware of are ABLE Accounts, which allow people with disabilities to save for college without the savings assets detrimentally affecting their SSI or FAFSA or other federal benefits; and SAVI, which is a college loan/debt payoff tool.
  7. You’ve got to be self-disciplined. For example, while you’re doing schoolwork, the phone might ring, the buzzer might be sounding on the dryer, and someone might be knocking on the door. These are not issues that are not dealt with when attending a brick-and-mortar school. Learning to minimize these types of distractions will allow you to remain focused on your work and get done what needs to be done.
  8. If you start, you do NOT want to stop until you have the degree! Otherwise, you’ll just have a list of classes that you’ve taken and perhaps student loan debt…but nothing for your resume.
  9. It’s not quite as easy as it looks. In other words, there is a real danger in equating flexibility with “easy.” The truth is that no accredited degree is easy regardless of what modality you earn the degree in. Anything worth having (like a university degree!) takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a willingness to burn the midnight oil.
  10. Classes are SO flexible that you can indeed go to school from your kitchen table!