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Shhhhhh

So I was reading this article the other day: a really great article from EDUCAUSE Quarterly, an instructional technology group. The article was a gathering of recommendations from successful online students for students new to online learning. The recommendations are very useful ( a lot of what you would expect, emphasis on time management and proactive learning) and I give the article to my online students.

But this article is troubling to read because, like so many similar articles about learning online or off, it has a title that follows the popular genre, ” Secrets to Success in …” It’s troubling, not because I don’t want anyone spilling the beans about academic success, but because I don’t understand why the steps to succeeding, online or anywhere else, are secret. And I think, what the article implies is that no one, not event he instructors of these online classes, told these students what it meant to learn online and how best to do it.

But when I think back on my undergrad experience, I don’t have any strong memories of being “let in on” the keys to being a successful university student. Even in face-to-face classes, I never received instruction, for example, on any of the following: how to read an academic article, what to write down during a lecture, how to prepare for a test or for office hours. I learned these things by careful observation, trial and error. I was lucky that these methods worked for me, but I came from a culture and a home life where these activities were somewhat natural to me, or at least familiar. Not everyone has those advantages.

The whole issue of “secrets to success” reminds me of another wonderful article by Gerald Graff about making education truly democratic by making the processes of academic achievement explicit and easy for student to understand. (You should all read this article. It changed my approach to teaching.)

So in this spirit, I challenge you to articulate for your students ( and here in the comments section of this blog) the “secrets” to succeeding in your class. What have you learned about how to learn in the academy? Bonus Points for those who provide “secrets to online learning” that were not included in the Educause article.

3 comments to Shhhhhh

  • Angie Whalen

    Hmmm..what have I learned about how to be a successful online learner? I’d have to say I’m still figuring this out, but as I’m just about to finish my first experience as a learner in an online course, here are a couple of thoughts that I plan to pass on to my future online students:

    1. Don’t procrastinate. If you’re new to online learning, it will take a while to get oriented to the online classroom environment. It takes time to adjust to navigating course sites, finding information, and completing all of your work in writing. Get started early with work to avoid problems.

    2. Set aside time on multiple days for class participation. With some traditional classes, you may only meet for class once or twice per week. With asynchronous online classes, you will likely need to plan on “attending” class several days per week to participate in class discussions, hear announcements, etc. It takes some adjustment if you’re used to attending class once a week and doing homework once a week!

    3. Make personal connections with your classmates and instructors. This is much more difficult to do online than in traditional classrooms because the tone of communication is sometimes difficult to read, and nearly all communication is public. Try to communicate in a friendly and respectful manner, and don’t be afraid to follow up with others if you need clarification about their intended messages.

    4. Be open to new ways of learning. Some of the learning activities in online courses will be similar to those of traditional courses. There will be readings, discussions, lectures, etc. However, you will probably interact with your instructors and peers very differently when participating in these same activities. There may also be activities that are less common in traditional courses, such as online collaboration, blogging, listening to podcasts, etc. An openness to new activities will help you to maximize your learning in the online classroom.

  • Deb Bauer

    Here are some “secrets” to success for my online course. Some are specific to the online nature of the class while others are simply general pitfalls for this class and likely many others.

    1. Start learning the material early in the week. In a traditional class the material is spread throughout the week not all crammed into one day. You’ll want to recreate that experience for yourself by beginning early in the week and giving yourself adequate time to get through everything by Sunday.
    2. Don’t just read it, practice it. If you simply read the text, read the instructor notes, and look at problems that have already been solved, they look easy. You need to go through the thought process to solve a problem from beginning to end, with no peeking at the answer. Also, the practice of using your calculator is invaluable. It always looks easy with the answer in front of you, and it is harder when your calculator tells you there are negative years (which makes no sense) or spits out an answer like 3.2 E-8. If you take the time to learn the finer points through practice you will perform much better overall.
    3. You will be required to demonstrate understanding. This is not the same as repeating what I’ve told you. It requires critical thinking and application of the material to problems you may not have seen before. Therefore, if you try to look up answers to the quiz without actually learning the material you will struggle.
    4. Ask for help. I am happy to answer your questions, as are many of your classmates, just ask. Don’t suffer needlessly for hours and don’t assume you are the only one who doesn’t get it. Your classmates will be grateful you’ve posed the question they’ve been wondering about. Another great idea: check the discussion board for useful tips that have been posted in response to others’ questions.

  • Participating to the Teaching Beyond the Classroom Online Course Development helped me to consider the on line course experience from the point of view of the student. Some of the best practices that I have learned and adopted during the weeks of the training include:
    1) Students need to be selective in choosing the websites for writing papers and research on line. Important tools like Wikipedia are not always useful and above all their accuracy is not always good.
    2) Students on line need to find effective and meaningful ways to communicate among themselves and the instructor. It is crucial to participate to the different on line activities in an interactive way. Forums wikis and blogs are great tool to develop on line discussions. They are more successful when the students are stimulated by the wise guidance of the instructor and when all of them contribute at least one post and one reply.
    3) Collaborative and cooperative groups activities can be very effective in an on line environment and this happens when student are truly engaged with the subject interact timely among themselves
    4) It important to reflect on how and on what students are learning in the on line course. Each students should write a sort of summary at the end of each week to keep track of all the things learned, abilities developed and challenges faced.