- Read the Syllabus
- Understand How Online Courses Are Organized
- Make a Calendar
- Get Familiar with Blackboard
- Check in Often
- If You Are Confused, ASK!
Imagine sitting in a classroom on the first day of a new course. What would be happening? In all likelihood, the professor would be providing you with an overview of the term to come: What skills and information do they hope you will learn during the course? What work will you be expected to do for class each week? When are the major assignments due? What types of exams will you take? Do you have any questions about the course? By providing this overview, your professor is aiming to orient you to the class and set you up for academic success.
In some online courses, your professor may hold a virtual meeting to provide this information; but in many online courses, it is your job as a student to orient yourself to the course. This means that you need to read carefully the information your professor provides as well as get used to the Blackboard learning environment. Here are some tips to help you set up for success in your online class.
Reading the syllabus with care is important in any class; but because the professor will likely not be verbally explaining their expectations, it is particularly important to read the syllabus of an online course. Pay close attention to the following:
- What themes, information, and skills does the professor hope you will learn in the class?
- How will the class be organized?
- When will course content, assignments, and quizzes be released?
- Are there materials you need to download or purchase?
- Will the professor post video lectures or other materials?
- Will there be live video conferencing for the course?
- How will you be assessed in the course? Are there weekly quizzes that you need to complete? Are there exams? When are assignments due?
While online courses differ widely, they often have a common system of organization. Most online courses are organized into weekly units or modules. The modules are often released on a particular day of the week and need to be completed by the end of that week. Each module generally contains:
As you read the syllabus, have a calendar that shows all of the months in the term on hand. Academic Skills, for example, offers free, term-at-a-glance calendars that you can download or print. Make sure to note the following on your calendar:
- The dates on which each module of the course opens.
- The dates by which you must complete weekly assignments such as discussion posts, quizzes, and short assignments.
- The dates on which major assignments are due.
- The dates on which exams open and close.
Once you have noted all of your due dates, you may also want to make a weekly time management plan. You can use Academic Skills’ 24-7 planner or your personal agenda to sketch out when you plan to listen to lectures, complete weekly readings, assignments, and quizzes, and work on long term papers and assignments.
For more advice and tools for time management, check out Academic Skills’ Time Management Guide.
Your online course will have a dedicated Blackboard site, which you will access through MyTrent. Make sure that you are comfortable with Blackboard and that you know how to access materials. It is especially important that you know where to access quizzes in your course site and how to use the assignment drop-boxes to submit your work. You can access user guides and FAQs on the Blackboard homepage.
It is important to check your course Blackboard site frequently as your professor will often post new materials or assessments or make announcements about the class. You can also turn on push notifications for Blackboard, which will allow the site to alert you when your professor makes new posts and when assessments are due.
Just because you will not meet your professor in person does not mean that you cannot ask questions. If, after reading the syllabus and course materials, you are confused about any aspect of the course, you can email your professor. If you are finding the content difficult, or if you’d like clarification on how to complete an assignment, make sure to ask your professor for help early, before you get frustrated or behind on your work.