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Higher Education

Advice to students who unexpectedly enrolled in an online university

First of all, I understand how much this probably sucks. I’ve been a professor for 20+ years, but right now my son is a college freshman and my daughter was looking forward to enjoying a victory lap in her final semester as a college senior before heading off to a Phd program. Of course, there are more pressing concerns, but we can take a moment to recognize that this sucks too.

So here’s some advice from someone who as been teaching online for about as long as “online” has been a word.

  1. This may be new to you, but it’s probably new to your professor and your classmates too. Your university has been planning for this for a couple weeks, but many of your professors have never taught an online course. Maybe you’ve taken one or two, maybe not, but chances are you’ve never been fully online. You can read the post before this where I wrote to professors, and there I say the same basic thing. We all need to give each other a little slack and assume we’re moving forward with the best of intentions (yes, I know where that leads, but would you rather we move forward with the worst of intentions?)
  2. Time management is the major challenge. I’ll tell you the same thing I told my kids… Get online like you were going to class. I.e., if your class was MWF 10-11, then get on then. Be there, like you were in class. Maybe your prof is running something synchronous, so you have to be there then, but even if that isn’t happening, it’s a way to maintain some sense of normality and structure in your life. You’d be surprised (I hope) how many online students over the years have told me they forgot they were taking the course. That probably won’t happen to you, but whatever you decide you should make a plan and stick to it.
  3. Engagement is also a major challenge. OK, I admit I was an undergrad in the pre-Internet days. That just meant I did crosswords and doodles in lectures instead of web surfing, texting, or whatever. IOW, engagement is always a challenge, but online it’s even harder. I assume you’re like my students and don’t want to be wasting your time. You want to learn and make the most out of this sucky situation. I suggest you do your best to meet your professors halfway. In short, if your professors are posting longish video lectures instead of normal lectures, then do your best to stick with it. Take some notes.
  4. You might find yourself doing more! The thing about sitting in a lecture is that you show up and just sit there. We’re hoping you’re taking notes, but not much more may be asked of you. A few of your classmates participate. Maybe you’re one of those, maybe not. Online, profs can ask everyone to participate and probably will. This is just our way of making sure you’re listening and understanding. The more you engage, the more you will learn. It’s going to be hard enough getting value out of the next few weeks. Try not to sell yourself short.
  5. Be clear and honest about your technical obstacles. Don’t assume your profs know what’s going on with you. They probably aren’t experts in digital media. If you’re having a probably it’s likely you aren’t the only one. This is new to everyone, including the higher ups at your college/university. We can’t help students without understanding the problems they are facing.

We’re all in tough, uncertain conditions: some worse than others. My personal recourse is to the philosophy of the Stoics. Depending on your faith, you might recognize this as a precursor to the Serenity Prayer. Happiness always lies in aligning our desires with objectives that are within our power to achieve. You can apply that advice generally, but here I’d say you might apply that advice to the next few weeks of your online education.

The only thing I know for sure is that we are all in this together.

2 replies on “Advice to students who unexpectedly enrolled in an online university”

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