Student Guide to Online Learning

online student with laptopThe purpose of this guide is to offer information and resources necessary for successful completion of your online studies. Areas such as Blackboard navigation, communication, and time management are included. Throughout the guide there are hyperlinks to relevant websites or online documents. Each of these links contains information designed to supplement what’s being discussed in this guide.

The guide is divided into several sections. You can access each section using the links below or simply scroll down to move through the entire guide. You can also download/print a PDF version.

Syllabus

The syllabus is the basis of success for an online student.  As such, it is essential that students print out and review the syllabus very carefully. In reviewing the syllabus, pay particular attention to the following areas:

  • Course Requirements
    • Review and understand the general course goals—they will give you an overall sense of what you should learn throughout the course.
    • Review and understand the specific course competencies/objectives—they will give you a more specific sense of how this overall learning will be achieved.  
  • General Course Policies and Procedures
    • Review and understand how attendance will be defined for this online course.
    • Review and understand the school or professor’s recommendation on how much time a student is expected to spend on the class.
    • Review and understand how quickly you can expect to get papers and assignments graded and returned.
    • Review and understand the grading scale and assignment rubrics.
  • Instructor Contact Information
    • Review and keep handy your instructor’s contact information.
    • Understand the best way to contact your instructor (via phone or email).
  • Participation
    • Review and understand how missing required weekly posts impact their grade.
    • Review and understand what constitutes an acceptable participation post.

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Course Organization

It’s important that you understand how your course is organized. Blackboard offers several areas/features to help you locate information. Although not all instructors use each and every area of Blackboard to the same extent, most will use the following areas:

Announcements
The Announcements section is the first page you will see when you login to a course on Blackboard.  This is where the instructor will post important messages, updates, and other information you need. You should check the course site regularly to ensure that you do not miss important information.  Only very recent announcements are visible when you first enter the course. To view older (or all) announcements for a course, click the “View All” tab at the top of the Announcements page.

Syllabus
The Syllabus section usually contains the course syllabus, as well as any other materials that pertain to the course in general. When you access your course, you should click on the Syllabus button to view and print a copy of the syllabus.

Start Here
The Start Here section contains information about your instructor(s), Regent University and School of Education policies, University resources, and much more.

Course Content & Activities
The Course Content & Activities section is where professors provide resources for use in completing assignments or to shed further light on subjects being discussed in class. There will often be several documents for students to download and view. These documents are generally in the form of PowerPoint presentations, Word files, PDF files, or graphic images.

Communication
The Communication section includes two areas: a) the "Community" area, which is used for Introductions, Course or Syllabus Questions, Chapel/Prayer, and informal discussions among students, and b) the "Dialogue" area which is used for discussions that pertain to the content of the course. Instructors require students to participate in online discussions within a specific timeframe, such as a new discussion every week or every other week. Your instructor will provide more details about where and how often to post to the discussion boards.

User Tools
The User Tools section offers a variety of options for students. The availability and extent to which these are used will vary by course/instructor. As a general rule, students can always check their grades in the online gradebook through this area, as well as access some of their personal information, such as address and phone number, which is housed in Blackboard.

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Communication

When communicating online, many of the cues normally used to discern meaning and intent are absent within an online environment. Consequently, there are certain aspects of online communication that students should be aware of as they begin the process of communicating via distance.

  • Students and groups communicating in an online environment are relatively more uninhibited. Online students and group members are generally more willing to disclose personally sensitive information about themselves than students in face-to-face interactions.

    [NOTE: This means that although you may feel more willing to share personal or sensitive information, remember that it will remain on the discussion board throughout the duration of the course, and everyone in the class will have access to it. This does not mean you shouldn’t share with your classmates, just don’t put anything on the discussion board that you don’t want your instructor and/or every other student to read.]
  • Online consensus/decision-making takes significantly longer than when group members interact face-to-face. Tendencies to be interactive and outspoken in electronic discussions sometimes lead to increased group conflict, which makes it more difficult for online students to reach agreement.

    [NOTE: This means that as you work together on group assignments/projects, give yourself and your group plenty of time to work through the discussion and decision-making process. Be willing to yield to others (graciously) if the situation warrants it, and don’t let your feelings get hurt if the group chooses another idea/suggestion over yours.]

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The WRITE Way to Communicate

The WRITE way involves communicating online in a manner that is (W)arm, (R)esponsive, (I)nquisitive, (T)entative, and (E)mpathetic. Here’s an explanation of each component:

Warmth
Words on a screen are two-dimensional. Reading these words in isolation of nonverbal communication cues lends itself to “coolness” that can lead to overreaction. Online communicators sometimes lose perspective – acting as though messages are going into the relative privacy of a text file saved to the user’s hard drive, rather than begin downloaded and read by the entire class. People, in turn, read two-dimensional words in isolation, misinterpret fuzzy language, or overreact to what’s being said.

Increasing warmth means to decrease the psychic distance among communicators. Being warm online is a way of reminding everyone in the class that it is people who are engaged in communication. There are several effective ways in which to improve online warmth.

  • Use the telephone when necessary. Phoning your instructor or classmates to clarify a point or to negotiate a particularly sensitive issue should occur when email just does not cut it.
  • Send sensitive information to private mailboxes. Don’t post complaints on the discussion board—email them privately to the instructor or a class member.
  • Incorporate warmth into written text. It is helpful to write about family, hobbies/interests, the setting from which you are writing, the weather, etc. [NOTE: Most instructors set up an informal discussion area for students to post this type of information. This area is great for introducing yourself and finding out more about your classmates.]

Responsiveness
Online communication is usually asynchronous (all users communicate and work online, just not at the same time). As such, responses between parties can take hours, if not days. Check the syllabus to see how long your instructor’s normal response time will be. This may change if the instructor is out of town or otherwise unavailable, so watch for announcements that indicate as much.

Inquisitiveness
Defensiveness is reduced if people ask questions rather than make statements. It is usually more constructive to ask a person why than it is to tell a person what. You need to be aware of this in responding to your classmates’ or instructor’s postings. It’s fine to disagree with what someone says, as long as you do it in a respectful, constructive manner. Asking clarifying or probing questions is a good way to achieve this.

Tentativeness
Defensiveness is reduced when people hear or read, “It appears that…” as opposed to, “It is…” Inquisitiveness and tentativeness work well together. A question, framed in a tentative manner, reduces defensiveness and can also contribute valuable information (e.g., ”Don’t you think it’d be better if we…?”). It’s fine to disagree with what someone says, but try to frame your disagreement so that if reduces the other person’s defensiveness.

Empathy
An important aspect of online communication is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. It’s the basic golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In other words, respond to your instructor and classmates with the same tone and respect you want from them.

[Adapted from:  Lewis, C. (2000). Taming the lions and tigers and bears: The WRITE way to communicate online. In K.W. White & B.H. Weight (Eds.), The online teaching guide: A handbook of attitudes, strategies, and techniques for the virtual classroom  (pp. 13-23). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.]  

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Netiquette

Proper form (following the rules) is important in most human undertakings. This advice is based on a 1994 post concerning “netiquette” from Time Magazine’s website. Although old, these suggestions are still relevant to the ways in which we communicate via our Blackboard courses.

  • Keep your posts brief and to the point.
  • Stick to the subject of a particular thread or classroom discussion. Occasionally, your discussions will spill over into areas that don’t directly relate to the topic at hand. Try to keep these instances to a minimum by staying focused on the topic and writing in a clear and concise manner.
  • If you are responding to a message, quote the relevant passages or summarize it for those who may have missed it. It helps everyone follow the thread of the discussion if you use quotes and/or summarize the portions you are responding to. This makes the discussion flow more quickly and smoothly.
  • Do not type in all caps. (Others may perceive it as “shouting” and consider it rude.)  

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Technically Speaking

Software
All students are required to have Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. For a complete list of computer hardware and software requirements, visit http://www.regent.edu/it/helpdesk/document/standards.cfm/?step=1.  

Login and Password
Your username, password and email address are provided by the Information Technology department.  Once you have that information, you can use it to login to your MyRegent Portal, which will allow you to easily access email, Blackboard, Genisys, and other University systems.

Email
We recommend that all students use their Regent University email account for all official correspondence. Students are responsible for regularly checking their Regent email for important messages and announcements sent from instructors and various departments within the University. Although students have the option to forward email to other accounts (i.e., Yahoo, Cox, etc.), this is not recommended and has resulted in numerous problems. One of the biggest problems has been the filtering of important university messages as spam by other email servers. Students choosing to use these accounts against the recommendation of the University should be sure their account's spam filtering option is turned OFF or set to its LOWEST mark. The School of Education is not responsible for student messages that are forwarded to other accounts.

Technical Assistance
There are two primary ways to get help for Blackboard, Genisys, email, and other areas:

Jackie Bruso
Coordinator of Distance Programs
School of Education
757-352-4259 or 757-323-9608
jbruso@regent.edu

Information Technology Department
757-352-4076
help@regent.edu

 

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Tips for Success

  • Dedicate this semester to God and expect Him to guide you through this course.  Depending on the experiences you’ve had with formal education, you may be surprised to hear that learning is a gift from God and He wants to be intimately involved in the process. As a result, we should seek Him to strengthen and enlighten us throughout this process. Ask Him to help you understand the concepts and appropriately apply the knowledge so that you can be successful.
  • Online learning isn’t as difficult as it appears.  In your online courses, you won’t be required to be online at a certain day or hour, so you can complete your weekly assignments at a time convenient for you.  Even though you don’t have the advantage of face-to-face meetings with a professor and students on a regular basis, you can access learning materials and interact with others from wherever you have Internet access.  There are several ways to communicate with fellow learners: e-mail through the course site, comments posted in the various discussion areas, phone calls, faxes, and face-to-face meetings if you’re in the same geographical area.  So, rather than considering your courses as distance courses, think of them as web-enhanced learning experiences.  Communication bridges the distance gap, so use every medium necessary to develop relationships and deepen your understanding of the course content.
  • Online learning isn’t as easy as it seems.  Our online courses are not independent study experiences. Although you have to demonstrate self-direction, time management abilities and initiative in online learning, courses have well-defined beginning and ending dates, weekly assignments and deadlines, and assessment activities that are similar to on-campus course requirements.  Consequently, successful students may find that they spend more time on their online studies than in traditional situations because reading assignments, discussions, and class interactions are primarily text-based.
  • Establish some study routines at the beginning of the semester.  Very few adults have the luxury of studying fulltime.  Consequently, most of us are juggling work, family, church and social responsibilities while attempting to complete our education.  This adds a measure of stress that can be managed with effective study habits. The stress level may be heightened as you organize your schedule at the beginning of each semester, but it will pay off in the long run.
  • Get help when you need it. We’ve all heard it said that the “best laid plans…oft go astray,” so if you’re aware of any situations that will prevent you from completing your assignments on time, or if you have an emergency, please let your instructor know as soon as possible. Like you, instructors are juggling a variety of responsibilities, so they realize that it’s important to extend grace in certain situations. Your instructor will work with you to accommodate your needs as much as possible within the context of course requirements, thus giving you a better chance of staying on track with the class.  Alternately, if you don’t communicate your needs, your instructor can’t provide the assistance that will help you be successful.
  • Read the syllabus carefully and refer to it frequently throughout the semester.  The syllabus provides the bulk of your course information and is the guiding document for the course. Become familiar with the learning objectives, methods of assessment, and deadlines.
  • Remember that electronic communication can create misunderstandings. Since most of your courses will not meet face-to-face, let’s be aware of the power of the written word and use that power in love and humility.  Every student and instructor should model professional and biblical standards in their conversations, respecting the diversity of thought and experience we all bring to the online classroom.  This doesn’t mean that we shirk from the truth, but it means that we debate ideas and concepts graciously.
  • Online discussions are vital to accomplishing the learning objectives.  The use of online discussion approximates discussion experiences in on-campus courses, but also offers more than the traditional format.  In face-to-face classes, you rarely have the opportunity to reflect on the question before answering, and the conversation may move so quickly that only a few people have the chance to participate.  In online courses, you’ll have access to the questions in advance and time to create an informed, rational response.  However, don’t wait to respond until 11 pm on the last day of the discussion.  The purpose of the online conversation is to foster an ongoing dialogue that develops deeper understandings of course material.  If you post your responses at the last possible moment, you lose the value of conversation and interaction with others in the class.

By understanding and incorporating these guidelines into your learning process, you can expect to be successful in your online endeavors. [Adapted from Dr. Shauna Tonkin’s online course materials, August 2004]

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