Monthly Archives: July 2016

Tips to Management Time for Online Students

Online courses give students the flexibility to take their class anytime, anywhere. The trick, students say, is staying on top of them.

Doing so requires discipline, commitment, and organization—traits any successful student should possess, no matter what path they’re taking to complete their degree.

“Being a good student, whether you’re online or in person, are pretty much similar things,” says Tamara Popovich, associate director of student services for ASU Online, the distance learning arm of Arizona State University.

But unlike their peers in the classroom, who have regular face time with instructors, online students receive no in-person reminder of when papers are due or tests are scheduled.

“The big myth is it’s easier to go online, because you can do it at your own pace,” Popovich says. “You do have more flexibility, but it’s not any easier … It’s harder, because you’re on your own; you’re left to your own devices.”

A need for flexibility is one factor fueling the growth in online education—online enrollment hit an all-time high in 2010 with more than 6.1 million students—but a lack of direct oversight can make it easy for them to fall behind.

Throw in everyday distractions typical for an online student—full-time jobs, kids, family activities—and the work can easily pile up. These time management tips from online learning veterans can help you stay ahead of the game:

1. Make a plan: Online students need structure, and a study calendar is a great way to create it, says Christina Robinson Grochett, University of Phoenix’s territory vice president for the Gulf Coast.

Check your syllabus before your course kicks off, and commit to due dates on your calendar. Then, designate study times for each class, and stick to them.

“I set aside a specific block of time every day, usually after the kids’ bedtime, to work on my classes,” says Natalie Fangman, mother of three and an online nursing student at Northeast Iowa Community College in Peosta. “I treat that time just like I would if I were in the actual classroom.”

Sticking to her plan helped her juggle work, family, and multiple online courses without falling behind, Fangman says.

2. Check in daily: One draw of online classes is that students only need Internet access to connect to their courses.

If you have an iPhone or Android device, leverage it to stay organized, Robinson Grochett recommends.

“With all of the mobile devices we have, somebody can go to a baseball game and still be checking in,” she says. “Not necessarily doing full-blown homework—just checking in and staying current.”

Turning school into a daily activity makes it less overwhelming, and it prevents students from getting caught off guard by syllabus changes, says ASU Online’s Popovich.

“Getting into a rhythm helped keep me on schedule and, most importantly, fight my urge to procrastinate,” says Alex Bonine, who took online classes while earning his bachelor’s in electrical engineering at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg.

3. Look ahead: Knowing what is due in six weeks, not just the next day, can help students maximize their time, Robinson Grochett says.

“Many times people don’t read ahead to see what’s next, so what they end up doing is replicating work that they’ve already done,” she says.

And once you know when an assignment is due, don’t wait until the day before to start working on it.

“If you have class, and you know it’s due Tuesday night, well, don’t make Monday night your night that you’re going to finish your homework,” Robinson Grochett says. “Sunday is a great day to say, ‘I’m gonna go ahead and knock it out.'”

4. Speak up: If you struggle or fall behind, don’t stay silent.

“Students are always hesitant to ask for help,” says Popovich, with ASU Online. “They start to drown and they take drastic measures, or they don’t take measures at all. Either way, they end up making a mistake.”

Instructors may offer wiggle room with deadlines or extra credit if a situation warrants it, and most online programs have teams of counselors and advisers to help you along the way—but students need to be proactive, Popovich says.

Even if the course seems like a total loss, Popovich says there is someone who can help.

“We don’t want them to fail miserably. There’s always a middle ground,” she says. “Let’s rescue what we can, and then move forward from here.”

Some Tips for Doing E Research at College

The situation: You’ve just been given your first 15-page college research paper assignment. Your professor wants you to use books and scholarly journals in writing your paper, and doesn’t want you to rely solely on Google and Wikipedia to do the research. What do you do? You could call your parents or ask advice from a friend. But a far better idea would be to follow these 10 best tips, offered by visiting blogger Cheryl LaGuardia, research librarian at Harvard University’s Widener Library:

1. Start with Google and Wikipedia. Sure, your professor doesn’t want you to rely solely on these e-sources for your research. But they’re both good for giving you an overview of your topic. Once you get a general view and some descriptive words from Google and Wikipedia defining your topic, you can move on to the meaty stuff.

2. Proceed to your library’s Web site. Once you’ve Googled and Wiki-ed to your satisfaction, you’ll be ready to use more serious, scholarly sources that will provide you with dependable information. Go to your college library’s Web site and consult the online catalogue. The main library home page ought to give you detailed instructions about how to search. Here’s an example of a library catalog that requires you to search a certain way for keywords, authors, titles, and subjects. Some library catalogs have you search the way you do in Google; here’s an example of that kind of catalog.

3. Use your library’s online databases. While the online catalog helps you find books, it doesn’t usually let you find individual articles within scholarly journals. For that you have to go into online library databases (take a look here to see how popular magazines differ from scholarly journals). Usually there’s a way to locate databases by subject. Some databases you’ll find on your library’s Web site might include Academic Search Premier, InfoTrac, JSTOR, ProQuest Central, Readers’ Guide, and Science Citation Index. Be sure to read the instructions on the opening screens of databases to learn how to search them; it’s worth taking the few minutes, because this is where you’re going to find the current information your professor wants you to use.

4. Try Google Scholar. Another good resource for finding scholarly articles is Google Scholar, which combines ease of use and rich content. If you go into Google Scholar from this public link, you can search the system, and get full-text access if you’d like to pay. However your college library may have a link into Google Scholar in its list of library databases, in which case the full text of the articles will be f-r-e-e.

5. Use online research guides. At many colleges and universities, librarians create online library research guides for use by students and others. Here’s a link to that section of my library’s Web site to give you an idea of the kinds of research guides you may find at your college.

6. Evaluate Web sites. In the course of doing research, you may need to use some Web sites on the open Web. You should evaluate these sites for Authority, Bias, Currency, Documentation and Delivery. Here’s a guide that can help you evaluate sites for your research.

7. Use real, print books. You may find many research materials online, as new books and journals are increasingly appearing in electronic format. But you may find a wealth of research material in books and journals that are not yet online—and the “secret bonus” is that many of your peers will not go after that material, so you’ll do the better, more complete research, and probably get the better grade.

8. Use ILL. One resource that beginning students aren’t always aware of is the interlibrary loan department. Here students can borrow books from other university libraries—usually at no charge and quite quickly. To find out what library has the books, check out WorldCat (used to be called FirstSearch) at your library or in its public version.

9. Use citation tools. It’s smart to create your paper’s footnotes and bibliography as you go along; it saves time and backtracking later. There are lots of different softwares for doing this; your college will probably give you access to one of these or you can go online and locate free software. Here’s a guide that outlines the citation tools in use at my library; and here’s an example of a free online citation tool, EasyBib.

10. Ask a librarian. As soon as you get that 15-page research paper assignment, go to the library and find a librarian who can help you. Librarians will save you enormous amounts of time, help you find research materials you otherwise wouldn’t, and help you get the “A” as painlessly as possible. Locate a librarian as a first-year student and, with any luck, you’ll be set for your entire college career.

Some Technology Must Haves for Online Students

Many online and distance-learning students cite a reliable Internet connection as the most important—if not the only—thing they need to succeed. With a dizzying array of new and pricey digital toys being produced regularly, many online students swear by their iPads and iPhones. Others say online education should be user friendly and low tech.

“Any online program that imposes significant technological requirements upon its students is a program [that] is poorly conceived and ill designed,” says Harlan Platt, a finance professor and faculty director of Northeastern University’s online M.B.A. program.

In fact, a handful of online students at University of Massachusetts—Amherst use dial-up connections to log onto their courses, according to Melanie DeSilva, marketing and recruitment manager for the school’s University Without Walls.

Most online students fall somewhere between the dial-up users and those who purchase every new gadget and device, so here are four technologies that can work for everyone:

1. A printer: Many online students may think they’ve liberated themselves from hard copies—but some online students still prefer to handle printed materials. Becky DoRan Radvilas, for example, studies at the online school Western Governors University and prints her research papers. When she can’t convert some of the E-books that WGU provides into PDFs to view on her Kindle, she prints those out, too.

Bill Horne, who runs William Warren Consulting, a telecommunications consultancy in Sharon, Mass., and works with online universities, recommends investing in a printer that’s easy to transport to meetings and while traveling. “[H]aving your own machine will save you the transit time and frustration of waiting until [commercial printers] open and trying to get there before they close,” he says.

2. Tools for easy bibliographies: Like their peers in traditional programs, online students have to write papers, which means they need to know the proper format for citing the works they reference. EasyBib.com is one product available to help with bibliography formatting. Students paste website addresses and book titles into EasyBib, which automatically formats citations. Students can access the Modern Language Association style for free, or pay a fee to use the American Psychological Association and Chicago styles, company spokesman Kerry Kitka says.

Radvilas, the Western Governors student, pays $3.99 a month for EasyBib, while Amanda Hoerter, who teaches English at The Alternative High School in Wausau, Wis., used the free version to format the bibliography of her 140-page senior thesis at University of Wisconsin—Stevens Point. Hoerter, who has taught online courses, recommends EasyBib with the caveat that it only capitalizes the first word of book titles and can’t interpret Web addresses for PDFs.

Other tools for making bibliographies include BibMe and NoodleTools.

3. Note-taking software: Some might assume that online students don’t need to take notes, but many use programs to highlight and comment on lectures and readings. Programs such as Evernote and Microsoft’s OneNote allow users to take, share, and archive notes.The services can act as “information dumps” in which students keep their work organized between classes and semesters, says Henry Imler, a course review specialist at Columbia College’s online campus.

Stacey Acevero, the social media community manager for Vocus’s PRWeb and a master’s student at the University of Phoenix, says she uses both Evernote and OneNote to take notes while she reads her online textbooks.

“They are fantastic note taking programs that allow for a much more visual approach than just typing a couple of sentences that probably won’t be understood later,” she says.

4. Web cams and headsets: Many online programs rely on Web cameras so students and faculty members can video chat. Tadd Rosenfeld, chief executive officer of Team Launcher, an international outsourcing company, says more than 50 of his employees earned their degrees online. He says USB-based headsets are a “must-have for distance learning if you want to participate effectively in spoken classroom conversation over the Internet.”

Rosenfeld suggests using headsets that plug into the computer’s USB port, rather than its microphone jack or that use Bluetooth technology, which he says operate with an inferior sound quality.

Candice Hughes, a second-year online M.B.A. student at the Indiana University—Bloomington’s Kelley School of Business, says she and her peers use Skype and Freeconferencecall.com for group discussions.

“These online technologies make it straightforward to learn at a distance,” she says.