January 18, 2018

There’s no hiding from full participation in your online courses

There's no hiding from full participation - photo copyright 2012 Rick Sherrell

One of my friends once employed a desperate ruse to outsmart her professor. To avoid being called on in class when she had not read the assignment, she pretended to be sick. She covered her face with yellowish liquid make-up and smudged brown eye shadow under her eyes to simulate dark circles. That way, she figured, she would not be marked absent but could just sit in class and not be expected to participate. The ploy worked: not only did the professor not call on her, he demonstrated serious concern and alarm at her condition! After hearing this story, I vowed to always call on the “sick” students—just in case they were faking.

A more modern solution to this problem would be to take an online course, in an environment in which you often can contribute to class discussion on your own schedule. As a result, many of today’s students are jumping at the chance to take some of their courses online, due to busy work schedules, athletic commitments, etc. Unfortunately, most students who sign up for their first online course do not realize that they need to develop some new technical skills in order to succeed in that course, and that online courses require just as much work, and sometimes more, than face-to-face courses on traditional campuses.

However, there are certain expectations in online courses that differ from face-to-face courses. One difference is that you cannot hide in the back of the room to avoid answering—or cover yourself with yellow makeup, pretending to be suffering from the plague. Instead, you are expected to contribute regularly, and the course’s Learning Management System (LMS), the program in which the course takes place keeps a record of your participation. Blackboard and Moodle are common LMS programs, and in those programs, everything is recorded and saved, so it is important to keep the correct rules of engagement in mind.

In an online course, participation is crucial to success; faculty members often report that students who participate more in their online courses learn more and earn higher scores. The content of the contributions is not the only important element to success, however: the form of your contribution can influence the quality of your work. You need to pay attention not only to the content of your work, but also the style of your written communication.

Here are four ways to guarantee that your form and content are of sufficient quality to do well in your online course:

1. Employ Netiquette: Students need to remember that all courses are professional environments, and that they need to communicate respectfully with each other and their instructor. Do not “flame” anyone!

2. Use Formal Language: Vocabulary should not include slang or profane language, and everything should be spelled out correctly, unlike the text messaging that many students are familiar with. The benefit of this is that your grades will improve because your work will have more clarity.

3. Practice Academic Honesty: Just because you are sitting at home in your pajamas doesn’t mean you can take other short cuts. Your work should be correctly attributed, even if you find it on the Internet. It is acceptable to quote in online discussions, but you must appropriately cite the source of your quote just as you would in a research paper. Otherwise, it is plagiarism and grounds for severe academic penalties.

4. Collaborate Fairly: Online learning often involves joint projects between students, especially in business classes. These assignments prepare you for collaborative work in the professional world. Take advantage of the opportunity to refine your professional communication skills by sharing information, dividing up work equitably, and respecting the needs and strengths of your group members.

If you keep these tips in mind, your work will reflect a serious commitment to the class, a high level of academic standards, and enthusiastic participation. You will learn more, benefit from interactions, and probably achieve higher grades.

Jill Rooney, Ph.D. is an Education Writer for OnlineColleges.net.  She earned a Ph.D. in History from the University of New Hampshire and has taught History, Political Science, and Film Theory for over twenty years. Dr. Rooney’s work has been published by the Smithsonian Institution, Oxford University Press, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Her teaching experience has taught her that all students really just want one thing: To learn. And that isn’t always easy, so she’s here to help! @JillRooney2jill@onlinecolleges.net.

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