One of the new experiences that I have faced since starting at Canisius is the prevalence of online learning. This semester I am enrolled in five classes and two of them are entirely online. At first glance this seems like the ultimate in flexibility, since as a student you can set your own schedule and get the work done when time allows. They are also great at allowing students to meet requirements without having to be physically on campus. I do want to caution potential online course takers who have never taken one before to be careful about them. Online classes are great exactly because of their flexibility, but that is also what makes them challenging. They require a strong level of commitment from students taking them, since you don’t meet with the professor and class at a prescribed time during which questions can be answered and concerns addressed.
Nowhere else is it as true than in an online class that you get out of it what you put in. The discussion forums are a unique communication method in which answers and concerns raised tend to be drawn out over several hours or days, as opposed to be resolved in a few minutes of face-to-face conversation. If students put forth the effort to write meaningful and thoughtful posts in the forums, conversation can be great and the retained for future reference. If however, the necessary time is not given over to doing the work well, the entire conversation can become frustrating.
To overcome these potential difficulties with online courses, I would recommend setting aside a specific time block each week for each online class during which you are “going to school.” During this time, I read my fellow classmates’ posts and respond to them where appropriate in a thoughtful way that hopefully will help further the discussion. I also take whatever quizzes are posted and do whatever other assignments are needed. Online courses are a bit of a wake-up call for students who have never experienced them, since they are a very different thing than traditional face-to-face classroom classes. They beg for students to be self-starters and motivated, which is hopefully the case of all grad students. Online learning has many great advantages, but students need to be prepared for what’s in store in order to get the most out of them.