How to Prep for Your Graduate Online Classes

Dr. Ellen E. Mauer
Dr. Ellen E. Mauer
Elementary school principal; Ph.D. in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies
Young man sitting at a table taking notes with a book and laptop on the table.

Whether focused on reading and literacy, school counseling, or educational technology, taking online graduate courses is different from taking face-to face graduate courses. They come with different sets of expectations and use different sets of skills. There are different things to do to prepare to take these classes that will help your success.

Become Familiar with the Online School Environment in Advance

There are a variety of online learning platforms that graduate schools use for online programs. Blackboard, Moodle, MyEdu, Instructure Canvas, LORE are a few. You will want to find out what your university is using and familiarize yourself with the various aspects of the platform. Find out how to turn in papers, use discussion features, and how each aspect of the platform will work prior to beginning class. See if there is a tutorial offered or contact the tech help department to ask more specific questions.

Ensure Your Financing and Scheduling Before You Start

Before starting your graduate program, you should arrange for financing. Your employer may pay a portion of the tuition upon proof of successful completion of the classes. Find that information ahead of time and complete any pre-approval paperwork before signing up for courses. There may be loan programs through the university or financial institutions. You may qualify for scholarship or grant money if your program will result in working in hard to fill positions. Your university advisor and supervisor at work will be able to guide you to find the information.

Go through the program outline and find out which classes will be taken at what times of the year. Review former syllabi from each class to see the workload each class will have so that you can better plan fitting it into your life at that time of year.

Get the Tools Necessary for Success

It will be important to prepare for a successful online experience. Be sure that you have a designated learning area that is quiet and not in the way of others, whether a roommate or children. Check your internet package to make sure the speed you have is going to work for the platform. Have a back-up plan if your internet goes down. You can change your cell phone package to include a hotspot in case of emergencies.

Go through the upcoming class syllabus and access the books and materials ahead of time so that you are prepared with expectations. Work with the online platform to set up a way to keep track of what needs to be done for each course and to check off that you have completed that task. Some people work better with a computer and others use a paper system. Use what works best for you.

Make Connections with Your Classmates

When doing a strictly online course, the interaction you will have with your classmates will vary. Some professors will assign group work and others won’t. It can be a very lonely endeavor to take a class and not see classmates regularly. Usually, there is some kind of introduction at the start of the course in which all students will provide a discussion post about themselves. Take advantage of this and when reading other posts, see who you may find commonalities with. You can contact them and set a regular time to chat virtually or by phone to talk over how the class is going or to process the material. Having that kind of camaraderie will benefit you.

When there are virtual class meetings going on, you may have the opportunity to see the other students or to be in breakout rooms with them for small discussions. Still, it is good to find a partner to process the content with and to discuss the assignments.

Prepare for More Online Participation

Participation in an online course will look very different than an in-person setting. In a virtual setting, you will see the other students’ faces and hear them speaking which gives you a better sense of who they are. There will be verbal interactions. There will also be small group sessions in a chat room that will allow you to virtually interact with others in a small group setting. When in a chat room with a few others, the professor may pop in and out to see how things are going. It will be important to stay on topic and be sure that everyone in that room gets a chance to speak and ask questions of others. You may want to mark down on a paper the names of the others in the group and check off when they participate. That way, you can see if everyone is getting a chance.

For online courses, the participation may be measured heavily by the discussion posts. A good, strong discussion post is important. You will need to do the readings and the homework in order to be prepared to write thoughtfully and articulately. Read the directions for the post very carefully. Be sure that you answer all of what is asked of you. If you have any questions about what is being asked of that post, email the professor and ask your questions.

As you are writing your post, acknowledge and be sure to list references at the end of the post. Try to bring a unique perspective to the entry and keep the material relevant. For example, if writing something in today’s world, it would be important to mention the effect that the pandemic has had on that topic if it is relevant. You will find it helpful to write the post in Word or a Google doc first, then transfer it over to the post. That will provide a good back up in case you struggle with the online platform or it doesn’t appear correctly.

Online courses have become a great way to learn remotely in today’s world. They help to keep options open for so many different reasons.

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