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New to Virtual Classrooms? Here's What You Need to Know

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So you're using a virtual classroom for the first time. Online courses can sometimes be more demanding than a traditional classroom setting, and the professors and instructions just as focused. Here are some easy ways to keep yourself accountable, plugged in, and excited about your classes.

Virtual Classrooms: Gaining Popularity

Virtual classrooms have gained popularity over the last decade, with up to 5.8 million students participating as of the fall semester of 2014 according to a survey by the Online Learning Consortium. Even if you're not attending classes in person, virtual classes can be just as rigorous as a traditional classroom setting. If you have the right tools for the job, your success in the virtual classroom will be a reality.

Hardware

Technology is going to be your sidekick for the duration of the class so what you have needs to be up to the task.

You don't need to be a computer whiz, but having a good grasp on technology and computer literacy will come in handy. When you enroll in virtual or ''online'' classes or training, it's typical for the school to give you a rundown of what you'll need for compatibility. Make sure your browsers are up to date and able to support any required apps or downloads. Update your virus protection to keep your computer running smoothly.

keyboard

If the program also supports apps, make sure your computer, tablet, and phone's cloud account are synced so you can access your classwork easily from each device.

Your school may offer remote technology assistance but not every ghost in the machine can be fixed remotely. How's the wifi signal in your home? Is your router a little old or temperamental? What's your internet speed? Do you have any webcams or video conferencing capabilities? Take a serious inventory of your hardware and software and upgrade anything that might be wanting.

Time Management

What does your class schedule look like? Some online lectures and class discussions are live while others are recorded or have set due dates. We all know the idea of carving out ten or more hours a week to work on something new seems a lot easier said than done. Try getting creative with your schedule: if you're an early riser, set your alarm an hour or two early and get a jump on some of your course work. Make the nontraditional part of this experience work for you. Listen to your audio based lectures during a long commute or on your break, embrace the technology and check to see if any of your textbooks or materials have been converted to audio books.

Productive Work Space

By now you've taken stock of what your needs are as a student; you know what your study habits are, what makes you productive and what causes too many distractions. While the coffee shop and laptop aesthetic is a nice picture, it may not be the best learning environment. Laptops live up to their names, making it easy to settle on the couch with the game on just for background noise. Let's be honest, you're just there for the coffee and the game is never just background noise. Eventually, you'll catch yourself shopping online and having a latte instead of working or the laptop ends up on the coffee table and your lap is now occupied by a bag of chips. Having a distraction free and organized space for your classwork is one of the best ways to ensure you succeed. The practice of organization applies to both your real and virtual desktop. Clear out the clutter and make space for your hard-copy school work; notes, text, project outlines. Digitally, if you're the type who has a bunch of tabs open on your computer, try to sharpen your focus with a productivity app that can block social media or video streaming sites for a set period of time.

organize

Having a space that's clutter free with minimal distractions will help you get into student mode and focus, especially if you're participating in a scheduled lecture or discussion, or taking a test. Tests and projects are very much a part of the virtual classroom experience, your grade can depend on how well you're keeping your distractions, interruptions, and technical glitches to a minimum. If you don't have this kind of space in your home, check with your local library and see if they have a study room or an area where you can work quietly. Even if you have a home office, it may not be a bad idea to scope out your local library. Power outages are beyond even the most diligent student's control.

Effective Communication

Ever send an email and then go back to re-read it? Maybe you weren't sure you got your point across, or maybe you were concerned you weren't polite enough or the recipient might think there's a tone to what you wrote. Communication can get complicated when it's not face-to-face. Establishing effective communication with your classmates and your professors are essential to getting the most out of your virtual classroom. Look at the language you're using during discussions and critical sessions, or when working with a professor or advisor. As much as you're there to learn, so are your classmates and they may be excited to get your feedback or look forward to learning new perspectives. Delivering feedback and participating in class discussions using clear and objective language can create an exceptional learning environment that benefits the whole class.

Be Fearless

be fearless

Being new to the virtual classroom may feel like the first day of school all over again, but it doesn't have to. Take a serious inventory of what your needs are, what the program or class requirements are and find where they intersect. Check with your local library for potential study space, work with your school on expected technology requirements, and make personal accountability your first priority. But most of all, take time to enjoy the feeling of learning something new and sharing ideas.

By Megan Patton
January 2017
opinion virtual classroom

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