When I started school online, I was so excited. I had my day-to-day schedule all planned out, which was great until about the third day of school when the unexpected happened — my work schedule changed. I then had to reorganize and create a new school schedule, which also worked for about two weeks until the next unexpected life event happened and I had to change it up again.
This began a series of events, each requiring me to rearrange the schedules that I had worked so hard to perfect. I was ready to throw in the towel, until I realized these events that kept occurring were simply called “life.” I also discovered that it was pretty normal for online college students to experience some rough patches as they acclimate to being in school and make their way out of what I like to call the “honeymoon phase.”
The honeymoon phase
Going to school online is a new adventure that is intriguing and exciting, especially at the beginning when you have great expectations, a positive mind set, and a newfound sense of purpose. After completing each task, you’ll probably feel an accompanying sense of euphoria, as you successfully overcome these first hurdles. I like to call this time the “honeymoon phase” and it usually lasts the first few weeks of school. Ultimately, though, life happens and other things begin to take priority leaving you to question if you made the right decision to go to school online, or even at all.
Once the honeymoon is over, many students describe feeling overwhelmed. The laundry and dishes pile up, an additional project is assigned, a major paper is due, the computer starts acting up, and so on. Frustrated, you may find yourself logging in to class less, procrastinating on assignments, slacking on homework, and essentially working your way out of school; however, forewarned is forearmed in this situation. Here’s some ways you can set yourself up for success after the honeymoon is over.
Awareness is the first step to prevent being overwhelmed. Realize that this feeling is normal and you’re not alone as your classmates are probably feeling the same way. Even though you’re on a steep learning curve at first, it will not always be this way. Initially you are trying to learn class requirements, new technology, and how to complete assignments in a special format.
You are also figuring out how to incorporate study time into your already busy life, and depending on how long you have been out of school, even learning how to study all over again. Understand that starting school is a lot at once and even the most prepared students can struggle. If you are aware that schedules will change and certain times of the semester will me more stressful than others, you can work proactively to lessen the impact.
Take advantage of this phase
You should take full advantage of the honeymoon phase. While you are excited and full of energy, go ahead and get a firm handle on the class requirements. Most online classes have a discussion forum where students communicate about course material. You will need to know the number of discussion question answers and participation posts required each week, the exact dates they are due, and the content and word count requirements.
Also, find out what week day assignments are regularly due and begin to build your schedule around these deliverables. After a few weeks, a routine should start to develop. Routines can further develop into habits making this the direction that you want to take regarding time management… with the goal of incorporating school as a habit in your life.
Just like traditional students have to learn their way around campus, you need to know the ins and outs of your school’s course management system. Log into the online classroom and spend some time figuring out where everything is. The classroom learning management system can be like a foreign country, and at first you will probably feel a little lost. So, search around.
Make sure you locate the syllabus, which provides a global overview for the class, and identify specific weekly outlines and homework requirements. Also, locate “communication areas” in the system, which usually consist of a general question area, one for private communication with the instructor, and a weekly discussion forum. The weekly discussion forum is very important, as it serves to help you develop a connection with your classmates and really hardwire successful mastery of the online learning management system.
Getting acquainted with these things early on will help you be better prepared to focus on course content and assignments versus fumbling around the learning management system.
Build a support system
During the “honeymoon phase”, you’ll also want to build a support system, which can consist of other classmates, instructors, academic counselors, spouses, friends, family or even co-workers. More than likely, you’ll need cheerleaders who can step up and support you through any rough spots. And even though it may be difficult to set your ego aside, a solid support system can make things easier in the long run when you need to seek direction, build back up plans, and stay on track for the times when life happens.
Remember, your education is too important to gamble with. You may have to set boundaries and learn to say no. You will not be able to take on additional events or responsibilities because school is priority. During the times that you recognize you need help, a support system can make all the difference.
Many students start out in school excited, envisioning straight A’s. But it’s important be realistic with your goals. Aim to do the best you can because if you set your expectations too high, you may very well disappoint yourself right out of a college degree.
Being realistic also means sincerely evaluating your long-term commitment to your education. If you are a person who has a pattern of becoming very excited about something new and then not following through, make sure you have a solid time management plan in writing and plan on revising it weekly. Understand that school calls for a significant time commitment and that you will have to prioritize and forgo other life activities to get your work done.
Also, be realistic about your technology skills. You don’t have to be a computer wiz to attend online school, but be aware that it will take you longer to learn both educational technologies and course material simultaneously. Prepare yourself setting aside extra time to learn about technology. Many online schools offer students helpful resources regarding online learning technology, or you can look to your community for enrichment courses on computer use. As a new online student myself, I attended a two-hour computer class on the weekends at my local parks and recreation department to sharpen my skills.
Have a back-up plan
You would not sign up for a college class 100 miles away if you knew that you did not have reliable transportation. Along those same lines, do not sign up for online classes unless you have a working computer that fulfills all of the technology requirements and a firm contingency plan in case it fails you. Because in online classes, technology issues on your end are not a valid excuse for “missing class.”
As an online student, it’s extremely beneficial to have both a desktop computer and a portable computer that can come in handy when traveling; however, if this isn’t possible, make sure you know where you can find a backup. Some students will use a neighbor’s or a family member’s computer as backup, which is great as long as the computer is available in your hour of need.
Also, be aware of community resources like local libraries or community centers that have public computers available for use. And as always, be sure to back up your information on a thumb drive, external hard drive, or even email it to yourself. In the case that the computer crashes, you will not lose your hard work.
With a little planning, you can give yourself an opportunity for success. Just remember, you cannot get a college education in a day — you are in this for the long haul. Stay focused on each and every class, and if you feel overwhelmed, ask for help, take a deep breath, and realize that whatever you are going through will pass. I cannot tell you how many times I thought “I can’t do this” and wanted to quit — but I didn’t. In the end, my college diplomas are worth every single meltdown that I had, and then some.
By LeAnne Prenovost
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