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Campus & Community

Online Learning Tips From Your Fellow Dragons

March 27, 2020

To help cope with this transition to a fully online curriculum this spring term, some of Drexel University Online’s top students provided their online learning hacks and best practices.

Please visit the ‘Drexel’s Response to Coronavirus’ website for the latest information on campus preparations and responses regarding COVID-19.

Spring term will be full of changes for Drexel University students due to COVID-19. These include not being able to live on campus, and not engaging in the activities and academic environments you’re used to and that have become routine.

And there’s one more that may be weighing heavy on your mind. This spring, Drexel’s curriculum will be taught fully online, meaning that students who have had little experience with online classes — or maybe no experience at all — will suddenly be trust into a fully virtual course load. 

Good thing there are many Dragons who’ve done this before, and are here to help! DrexelNow interviewed four past and present Drexel online students about their tips and tricks on tackling a fully online curriculum. Here’s what they shared:

 

Olivia Kelly (MS retail & merchandising ‘19)Olivia Kelly — MS retail & merchandising ‘19

Q: Have you ever taken in-person college courses before? If so, what are the biggest differences from how you work and learn effectively doing online classes vs. in person?

A: Yes, my undergrad was completed in person at the University of Maryland, College Park. I think that I learn and work just as effectively in an online environment as I do in an in-person classroom.

Q: What are your favorite things about online learning?

A: Having the flexibility to do my work and listen to lectures when it made sense for me was my favorite aspect of online learning. Additionally, you become close to your course mates and you get the opportunity to meet people from all over who are in the same online classroom as you.

Q: What is the most surprising/effective thing any of your professors have done in the past to assist or support your online learning?

A: Drexel professors do a great job of being readily available for any questions or comments. Video lectures are helpful, and having a forum to openly ask questions to the professor or fellow classmates really assists in learning the material. Discussion boards are also a great tool as you get the perspectives of other students and their replies may be able to answer any questions you have.

Q: Do you have any specific Blackboard tips?

A: Log in every day and pay attention to the calendar! It’s easy to forget about deadlines when you don’t have constant in-class reminders.

Q: Do you think it’s easier or harder to stay on top of your schoolwork when taking online classes? What are your tips for making sure you don’t miss any deadlines? 

A: It’s just important that you come up with a system that will help you remember to get work done. I would block out at least two hours every day after work dedicated only to studying and working on assignments. I would add important dates to my personal calendar, and whenever possible, I would do any work I could in advance.

Q: What would you tell a student who is worried about taking all online courses this spring?

A: Online classes are definitely an adjustment but they’re great! You just have to find your groove and be disciplined and after a few weeks, it will easily become the new norm.

Q: Why might you say that Drexel is a leader in the online learning space?

A: Drexel has all the tools in place in order for you to succeed in an online working environment. Professors are well-versed in teaching in an online classroom, and there is a plethora of materials for you to reference and leverage throughout this journey.

 

Lynn Almengor (current human-computer interaction & user experience master’s student)Lynn Almengor — current human-computer interaction & user experience master’s student

Q: Have you ever taken in-person college courses before? If so, what are the biggest differences from how you work and learn effectively doing online classes vs. in person?

A: I completed my undergrad program in-person but am now in my third term of a fully online graduate program. The biggest difference has been that I can’t raise my hand to ask a question and get a response in real-time. My professors have typically been quick to answer emails, but you may need to budget more time to wait for responses or independently seek answers.

Q: What are your favorite things about online learning?

A: I love that I can take my time absorbing the lecture material. In-person classes are often dominated by the quickest thinkers or loudest voices, but when you’re online, you can take more time to craft thoughtful questions and responses. And if you don’t fully grasp a concept the first time around, you can replay the audio/video as many times as you need to without taking up class time or calling attention to yourself.

Q: What is the most surprising/effective thing any of your professors have done in the past to assist or support your online learning?

A: The most effective thing my online professors have done is create tutorial videos that walk you through every step of completing a process, navigating a software tool or solving a computational problem. That way, true beginners can visualize every step, while those more familiar with the procedure can skip to the parts they need.

Q: Do you have any specific Blackboard tips?

A: Blackboard’s discussion boards are decent, but its messaging tools and alert system are clunky and unreliable. For group projects or private chats, I recommend using email or another outside messaging system instead. And if you don’t regularly check your Drexel email, make sure to have your messages forwarded to another account so you don’t miss important announcements.

Q: Do you have any organizational tips for taking classes online?

A: Even though I’m in an online program, I still find pen-and-paper organization methods helpful. I print my syllabi at the beginning of each term, take notes in a notebook and keep a master calendar of not only my assignments, but all the smaller steps I need to complete along the way. It helps me better visualize my overall workload, plus I get the satisfaction of physically crossing things off when they’re done!

Q: Do you think it’s easier or harder to stay on top of your schoolwork when taking online classes? What are your tips for making sure you don’t miss any deadlines?

A: Taking classes online might create a false sense of having extra time to catch up on assignments, but treating it like an in-person obligation helps keep me on track. I set aside a specific time each week to "go to class" and set reminders so I don’t forget. I also make sure to complete all the readings and assignments for that week before the next "class" even if nothing needs to be turned in.

Q: What would you tell a student who is worried about taking all online courses this spring?

A: Taking courses online isn’t all that different from taking them on campus, especially with the abundance of free digital tools you can used to stay organized and connected, like Google Docs, Skype and Microsoft Teams. Plus, many workplaces use these same tools every day, so the more comfortable you become with them, the more prepared you’ll be to effectively use them in the future.

 

David Lowe-Bianco (current Creative Writing master of fine art’s student)David Lowe-Bianco — current Creative Writing master of fine art’s student

Q: What are the biggest differences from how you work and learn effectively doing online classes vs. in person?

A: Online courses require a lot of discipline on your part to succeed. When you take classes in-person, it becomes part of your routine. You go to class at a specific time every week and typically you turn in your assignments at that same time. When the course is online, you have to be proactive in creating that time for the class and really sticking to it. Independently being able to manage your time efficiently is an essential part of being successful with online courses.

Q: What are your favorite things about online learning?

A: I work full-time and sometimes my hours can be a bit chaotic. I love the flexibility that online courses provide because I can really tailor my classes to my own schedule.

Q: What is the most surprising/effective thing any of your professors have done in the past to assist or support your online learning?

A: I just love how accessible all of my professors have been despite the classes being taught online. They all still have office hours and are accessible by phone or email. It’s very convenient.

Q: Do you have any specific Blackboard tips?

A: It can be a bit overwhelming at first but try to spend some time going through every page for each of your courses and getting familiar with the platform. You’ll find that it’s quite simple and easy to navigate. And make sure to check out all the discussion boards!

Q: Do you have any organizational tips for taking classes online?

A: I recommend making a folder on your computer just for your online courses with sub folders for each individual class. If you’re really feeling zesty, you can make sub folders inside those sub folders for each week of the classes. This is a great way of storing all your reading materials and assignments in a way that’s easy to manage. It wouldn’t hurt to put things in the cloud, either.

Q: Do you think it’s easier or harder to stay on top of your schoolwork when taking online classes? What are your tips for making sure you don’t miss any deadlines?

A: Try to invest in a day planner or a calendar that’s just for school. Jot down your assignments for the week and their deadlines. It’s easy for things to get mixed up in your head when you’re juggling multiple online classes at once.

Q: What would you tell a student who is really worried about taking all online courses this spring?

A: Don’t worry. The workload is essentially the same. You’ll still have lectures and assignments and everything you’d expect from a college course. The only difference now is that you’ll have to hold yourself accountable to actually do the work.

Q: Why might you say that Drexel is exemplary/a leader in the online learning space?

A: Through the online Creative Writing MFA program at Drexel, I have been given a superb education, I have been able to speak with working authors and screenwriters and I have developed real friendships with my classmates. It is every bit as fulfilling an experience as my in-person undergrad was and I’m excited to see what the next quarter holds.

 

Mitch Brudy (BS Business Administration ’16, MS Entrepreneurship/Entrepreneurial Studies ’19)Mitch Brudy  — BS Business Administration ’16, MS Entrepreneurship/Entrepreneurial Studies ’19

Q: Have you ever taken in-person college courses before? If so, what are the biggest differences from how you work and learn effectively doing online classes vs. in person?

A: I did my undergraduate degree in-person at Drexel. For me, the biggest differences between online and in-person courses were the interactions with other students and the self-discipline needed for online courses.

In-person classes provide the opportunity to chat with other classmates before and after class, you can have off-the-cuff conversations with the entire class, and you can actually see the people you’re learning with. It’s not that you can’t get those same interactions with online learning, it just takes a more conscious effort to make them happen.

As for self-discipline, college taught me how to buckle down and force myself to do things I didn’t want to do (i.e. study and go to 8 a.m. classes). The biggest difference about online learning is, you’re not going to get called on for a pop-quiz in class, you’re not going to face your professor and other classmates and you’re not going to have the social pressure that, for me, was a big driver. You have to find those other motivators to force yourself to be as productive as you would be otherwise.

Q: What are your favorite things about online learning?

A: Online learning offers a range of freedom you can’t get with in-person classes. You can watch lectures, write discussion posts, read articles and read books whenever you want, wherever you want — as long as you keep practicing social-distancing!

Also, for me group projects changed to a more enjoyable format. During my online courses, our groups would schedule our meetings the first week of the course that way all the meetings for the term were already on everyone’s calendar and we’d meet via video chat. And, since we couldn’t rely on those quick chats before and after class, our projects were way more organized because we would use that meeting time like a business meeting. Each person would provide an update on their progress, we’d discuss any challenges or hold ups, and plan next steps.

Q: What is the most surprising/effective thing any of your professors have done in the past to assist or support your online learning?

A: In my mind, there are three things that make any online professor great. First, they put time and effort into their slides and presentation. Some professors put up white slides with a few sentences on them, turn on their mics and talk. Other great online professors give presentations that hold your attention and provide quality information. Second, they expose you to new tools and resources that will benefit you far after your time in their class and, hopefully, long after your time in college. Finally, they provide meaningful feedback on papers and discussion posts.

To me the skills that make any professor great are the same whether in-person or online. Fortunately, Drexel has a lot of great professors that truly do care about their students’ futures and will do everything they can to make sure you’re getting the best education possible.

Q: Do you have any specific Blackboard tips?

A: Blackboard offers a lot of great tools and resources for connecting with your classmates and presenting your work. Take the time to explore and learn about the features it does offer and if there’s one you don’t understand, reach out and ask for help!

Q: Do you have any organizational tips for taking classes online?

A: Unlike in-person lectures, you can watch an online lecture as many times as you want (as long as it’s recorded). Don’t worry about taking notes the first time through; just watch and learn. Re-watch the lectures later and take any notes you may want.

Additionally, a tip that helped me during some of my busier terms was to take advantage of the courses that release classes early. If you can devote extra time at the beginning of a term to get a few weeks ahead, it makes more time during the stressful parts of the term for studying and other classes.

Q: Do you think it’s easier or harder to stay on top of your schoolwork when taking online classes? What are your tips for making sure you don’t miss any deadlines?

A: I think it’s different. While in-person courses are very structured in how you receive information, online courses tend to be a little more free-flowing. I think it more comes back to what I mentioned about self-discipline and finding a method that works for you. The first few days or weeks may be challenging because you’re doing something entirely new, but if you keep searching for the style that best suits your learning needs, it gets much easier.

What worked for me was putting all the due dates on a Google calendar at the beginning of each term with reminders set for weeks and days out. Every morning when I woke up, I’d see what was due in the coming days and weeks and know how to prioritize my time.

Q: What would you tell a student who is really worried about taking all online courses this Spring?

A: First, I’d say: you’re not alone. Everyone in the world has had their lives upended. If they’re fortunate enough to still be working, they’re doing it in a way they’re unfamiliar with. Because of that, find support, talk to your classmates, talk to your advisors and perhaps most importantly — talk to your professors. If you’re struggling with material, tell them. For some, this may be the first time they’re teaching an online course as well, so feedback from their students can help them uncover issues they didn’t know existed.

It’s clichéd but true: communication is key. If you keep the channels of communication with Drexel, professors, friends and family open, they can all help you.

Q: Why might you say that Drexel is a leader in the online learning space?

A: For one, Drexel does have full degrees online, so the online learning infrastructure is already in place. For schools that haven’t put as big a focus into online learning, there may be a learning curve they have to overcome. But second, even Drexel’s in-person degrees offer a hybrid option of utilizing both in-person and online courses. While in undergrad I often took advantage of these courses so I could have more time to spend studying where I wanted instead of sitting in a lecture hall.

Drexel is a leader in the online learning space because it’s been a priority for many years. Heck, you might find you like taking online courses better!