Taking Courses Online

Taking Courses Online

If this is your first experience with online learning, please don't feel intimidated by the technology used to participate in our courses.

We all need to be proficient with these digital competencies as they rapidly become integrated into formal education, as well as workplace learning and development.

Technology is merely a tool; engagement is key. By understanding the characteristics of computer-mediated communication and following a few rules of engagement, you can greatly enhance your success as an online learner.

Your Time Online

As a student in the adult education program, you can expect to spend about 12-14 hours per week for each three credit hour course.

Our courses are mainly asynchronous, meaning that you can access your courses when it's convenient for you. We do recommend that you log into each course at least three times per week. The most important aspect of a course is student participation, and regular interaction with other students and faculty is required. In general, you do not have to be online at the same time your course mates are. We may occasionally have live meetings, but we'll schedule them with input from you and your course mates. If you can't attend a live meeting, you'll be able to review a recording at a later date.

Online Activities

You can expect to perform the following activities in an adult education course:

  • Log in to the course to check for new announcements.
  • Read and send messages in the course email tool.
  • Participate in or lead online asynchronous discussions.
  • Read assigned texts and other supplementary materials.
  • Conduct online library research.
  • Write and revise papers.
  • Work on individual and group projects.
  • Participate in or lead a synchronous Web-based video conference.
  • Reflect on the connections between class topics and your "real life."
  • Apply what you have learned.

Characteristics of Computer-Mediated Communication

If you have never taken or taught an online course, it is helpful to understand the characteristics of computer-mediated communication. The following is adapted from a description written by Jennifer Cochrane of the IUPUI Department of Communication Studies.

Since you will use a computer to communicate your thoughts and ideas to others in our online courses, it is very important for you to understand a little about the type of communication tool the computer is. Here are a few characteristics of the computer as an interpersonal communication tool and some ways that these characteristics might affect your use of the computer to communicate.

Interaction facilitates learning. A good online student understands that interaction is the primary way that learning takes place via the computer, takes full advantage of the online presence of other people and resources, doesn't just "lurk," is polite and respectful to others, and responds promptly.

Writing is the primary form of communication. It is important for the online student to use appropriate graduate-level language and formatting when writing assignments.

Email messages and discussion forum postings should avoid IM jargon, texting abbreviations, and so on.

Emoticons are helpful but should not be over used.

Your ability to critically think and reflect that thinking in a scholarly way will be evident to the reader from your writing skills online.

Electronically communicated ideas are intensified. The online student should realize that meanings, feelings, thoughts, and thinking and writing skills can be intensified because of lack of physical human presence.

The absence of nonverbal messages such as body language, vocal tone, and facial features means that a written message may have a more distilled or concentrated effect than originally intended.

In electronic messages meaning is attributed. Have you ever struggled to say exactly what you mean in an email message? Have you ever been misunderstood over email because someone misinterpreted your "tone" as "rude" because you sent someone a short, succinct reply?

In electronic communication - as in all forms of communication - meaning is attributed by the reader/listener, and it may not be the meaning the writer/speaker intended.

It is easier to communicate the intended meaning in a face-to-face setting, because you can use a variety of nonverbal signals.

Because there aren't any nonverbals in written text, communicating your intended meaning can be more difficult.

In electronic communication we sometimes use emoticons or symbols like "LOL" to give our email messages the proper tone.

As an online student, you must be careful when reading meaning into the messages of others. As an online writer, you must work harder to create messages that reflect more accurately your tone of voice, feeling, intent, and your content.

Asynchronous response time can be advantageous. Fortunately, when you communicate via a computer, you can take advantage of its asynchronous environment. (Asynchronous means "not at the same time.")

You are communicating on your own schedule. Since you have time to think before responding, you can choose language that communicates proper tone, feeling, and intent.

This will help to minimize incorrectly attributed meaning.

Messages are usually irreversible and archived. The online student understands that, once sent, written feelings, thoughts, ideas, etc. are irreversible, documented, and - in many cases - archived.

By taking advantage of the asynchronous response time afforded by most computer-mediated communication, the student may decrease the number of poorly worded or regrettable messages sent in haste.

Rules of Engagement

As part of the adult education online learning community, you'll use Web-based platforms to communicate via text-based discussions (synchronous or asynchronous) and a variety of digital media.

Although your courses are delivered through communication technologies, it is your intellectual engagement with the content, in combination with the professional and social relationships you develop with your peers, that produce shared learning outcomes.

A very important aspect of online learning - especially with adults - is recognizing that the roles of student, subject matter expert, and facilitator are fluid within a course. It is important to acknowledge, respect, and draw upon the knowledge and experience of everyone within the learning community.

We ask those who are more experienced with online learning to give suggestions and positive feedback to those who are less experienced so that we develop a supportive climate in our online community.

All members of the online learning community should promote learning by:

  • creating a safe and engaging climate for collaboration.
  • empowering each other as learners by encouraging self-directedness.
  • sharing responsibility for accomplishing interactive group discussions and projects.

We've intentionally structured the curriculum so that your courses and course work build on each other, allowing you to find greater coherence in what you are learning and greater interaction with faculty and peers.