Parking pass. Nope.
Mini-fridge for the dorm room. Nope.
Online students typically don’t need the must-haves that traditional students have on their back-to-school checklists. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to prepare for online learning.
Your back-to-school preparations will help you succeed in the virtual world and make the best of the flexibility of being an online student.
Online learners need to consider four major things before starting the semester: space, technology, availability, and resources, says Martha Snyder, associate professor of technology in education at the Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Space: Traditional students have physical spaces on campus to study, such as the library or student commons, Snyder says. But online learners need to plan for space. Especially if you have a family, find an uncluttered spot for you to dedicate to your studies (hint: the kitchen table is probably not the best location).
Technology: Your back-to-school shopping list may include a new computer, printer, word processing software, flash drives, and other tools. Look to see what your school recommends. Also, make sure you know how to use the learning management system, such as Blackboard or Moodle, before the class begins, or else you may get frustrated or fall behind.
Update your virus protection, delete old files or programs, and back up essential documents, says Susan Colaric, assistant vice president for instructional technology at Saint Leo University in Florida. Why? She says a computer that is running fast, free of viruses, and doesn’t crash will make completing assignments more worry-free.
Already stressed or dreading the upcoming semester? Consider buying a “skin” to dress up your laptop or a shirt or coffee mug with the school logo, which can give you an emotional lift for starting the new year, Colaric says.
Availability: You aren’t required to be on campus at a certain time, but you still need to plan when you are going to focus on your classroom. Snyder says a rule of thumb is to set aside 10 hours a week for every three hours of class.
Resources: Find out now what type of online resources your school offers and when they are available. That could include an online librarian, tech support, and virtual tutoring.
Also, add these four things to your back-to-school checklist:
1. Do a trial run.
Log into the college’s system to make sure your computer has everything it needs to operate. For example, you may need both Firefox and Safari as browsers, if one has a problem opening up particular documents or files. You also might need to install updated versions of Adobe Acrobat, QuickTime, Windows Media Player, and Flash to see documents, hear audio, and watch videos
2. Set your schedule.
Use your online or phone calendar to block out times for school, and let your family members or friends know that you won’t be available during these times.
3. Review the syllabus.
The syllabus is a key way in which an online instructor will give you dates and course policies. It also will list the books, which you can purchase or download before class begins.
4. Check on employer reimbursement.
If you haven’t done this yet, find out if your company will pay for your education and get that process started. Or maybe you are entitled to GI Bill benefits to help pay for your education.