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5 Strategies to Help Grad Students Get the Most of Online Classes

Here at Ball State University, we’ve seen our graduate student enrollment grow, particularly in our numbers of students seeking an entirely online graduate degree experience. As these numbers increase, we wanted to help students, either returning to school after working in the professional world or those who are accustomed to a face-to-face educational experience, make the most of their online classes.

So we talked to Deborah Davis, associate professor in the master’s of public relations program. The PR program at Ball State is one that can be completed entirely online, on campus or in a blended format.

“Online classes are going to continue to be a mode of delivery that’s very important to many of our students,” Davis said. “Learning how to get the most out of them, as you would in a face-to-face class is very important.”

Here’s some advice from Davis to help online grad students manage their time and assignments when taking online classes.

  1. Treat online classes as if they were face-to-face classes

Students should incorporate structure into their routines, similar to what is required in an in-person class. Many online students work full time, in addition to taking online classes, so it’s important to set aside time for coursework and make it a habit. Davis said she had one student who would work on her class work at 5 a.m. every morning, because she had a job and a family and that was the time that worked best for her. If it’s built in, you’re less likely to be scrambling to meet deadlines at the last minute, amid other life and work responsibilities.

  1. Get comfortable with technology and have a backup plan

One mistake that online students make is to wait until the last minute to turn in assignments electronically, then find that their Wi-Fi is down or Blackboard isn’t working correctly.

“You have to take charge of that,” Davis says. “Don’t use it as an excuse to not to the work.”

  1. Break things down into smaller, more manageable pieces

This is a time management strategy that people hear often, but it’s critical as an online grad student. Most grad classes require some kind of final project that students are expected to work on throughout the semester, so giving yourself time leading up to the due date will be important to getting it finished and not stressing yourself out.

  1. Set personal goals

Approach your classes with goals in mind of what you want to accomplish, and think through these goals carefully. At the graduate level, each class is a building block toward the degree. It’s important to go into classes recognizing this and having goals where you want to be as a student to tackle the next class.

  1. Incorporate in-person time with others

Face-to-face contact is still important to maintain, even in online classes. Scheduling time to meet with professors and your fellow students gives you the chance to talk about your ideas and your struggles. As a professor of online classes, Davis makes an effort to help students get to know one another by requiring collaboration on assignments and get-to-know each other posts in discussion boards. Don’t be afraid to reach out to classmates or the professor for help or just to meet to discuss your goals and prospects.

Our award-winning Online and Distance Education programs offer even more resources for online learning. Check them out here.


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Admissions specialist’s work with students fulfills dream of becoming a teacher

LindaJones

Graduate Admissions Specialist Linda Jones, right, poses for a photo with Robert Morris, acting vice president for Academic Affairs, after receiving a 2016 Meritorious Service Award for Academic Affairs.

At the Staff Recognition and Retirement Awards Program, Graduate Admissions Specialist Linda Jones began to wonder what was going on when she realized her son and many of her colleagues in the Department of Educational Psychology, including John Jacobson, dean of the Teachers College, were all in attendance.

She was still surprised though when Acting Vice President for Academic Affairs Robert Morris called her name to receive the 2016 Meritorious Service Awards for Academic Affairs. Jones was among five recipients of the award from various areas of the university.

“I fought back tears,” Jones remembered of that evening. “I felt truly blessed. We all work really hard, and we don’t necessarily expect a pat on the back.”

Jones said she always wanted to be a teacher, but her family couldn’t afford to send her to college. After a 30-year career with ADT Security Services, Jones started in the department with a part-time job that gradually turned into a full-time gig.

“It’s not teaching, but I am a teacher,” she said. “I’m a guide of sorts. I’ve fulfilled that dream, in a sense.”

Jones was nominated by one former student who she helped guide through the admissions process. Xiaopeng Gong—an alumnus of the Ph.D. Educational Psychology program who is now an assistant professor at Western Oregon University—wrote in her nominating letter that Jones cares for her students, both personally and professionally.

“Linda is family to us,” Xiaopeng wrote, “She is always there to help. She cares for us both personally and professionally, and is the one who always goes the extra mile.”

Seven years ago when Xiaopeng was still working in China, she called Ball State to check on the status of her application to the Educational Psychology graduate program. It was Jones who answered the phone and the one to deliver the devastating news that Xiaopeng’s application, which she spent two years preparing, had been delayed in arriving to the department and the deadline for application had passed.

But Jones tracked down the application and found that upon review, Xiaopeng qualified for admission to the department’s doctoral program, which was still enrolling students. Jones conferred with the program’s director and double-checked that Xiaopeng was interested in applying for a different program. Two weeks later, Xiaopeng was accepted and offered an assistantship.

“For Linda, this might be something that happens everyday,” Xiaopeng wrote in her letter. “But for me, this was a life changing moment. Who will care about a potential applicant who is thousands of miles away in a foreign land? Linda does. I would never be where am now without Linda being there, doing her job and caring.”

Over the years, Jones has made many connections to students like Xiaopeng, befriending and mentoring them throughout their time at Ball State and staying in touch even after they’ve graduated, she said.

“I love students,” Jones said. “That’s why I’m here.”


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Orientation speaker aims to encourage success among incoming graduate students

Wil_Davis speaking

Pictured is Wil Davis, CEO of Noble Why and interim president Ball State Innovation Connector, during a speaking engagement.

Ball State University Graduate School’s fall orientation is all about encouraging new professional and personal relationships and creating connections among students and potential mentors. This year’s speaker embodies that mission, leaving a successful company to better help people build relationships and foster connections.

Wil Davis  president, Ball State Innovation Connector has extensive experience in corporate leadership as the cofounder of Ontario Systems, a software company specializing in healthcare and other systems management and one of Muncie’s great success stories. Last year, the company was named Indiana’s top place to work by the state Chamber of Commerce, a tribute to the culture a leader like Davis can create.

But what Davis really loves is to encourage and nurture people, facilitating the building of relationships and communities around passion and purpose.

“That’s what I feel rewarded by,” he said.

He’s able to do that as the founder and CEO of Noble Why where he serves as a business consultant to improve company cultures. He found his way to Ontario Systems and his current position after feeling disappointed and unfulfilled with the work he was doing in his first couple jobs. But, he admits that those jobs weren’t a waste of time, and he wouldn’t be where he is today without them.

He’s bringing his experiences and message as the keynote speaker for Fall Orientation 2016. He hopes to help students articulate their own “Noble Why” to help guide them in life’s decisions.  

“I hope students are challenged to think about their lives from an intentional perspective, connecting their passions and personal purpose with their vocational and avocational lives,” Davis said.  “As students begin their graduate careers, our goal is to prepare them for a life of success in things that matter!”

To learn more about Davis, his full biography is available online. He’s also the author of a book about company culture.

If you haven’t already done so, be sure to register for orientation. Wil Davis will be speaking at 1 p.m. in Pruis Hall.


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4 Tips Grad Students Can Use to Stay Organized

Getting organized is a great way to start off the semester, and Ball State University recently brought expert organizers Kathie Nix and Melissa Daniels to lead a Learning & Development session on the topic. We learned some helpful tips for getting—and staying—organized that we’d like to share.

  1. Strategy: the 5 Why’s

This is a strategy developed by Sakichi Toyoda and still used by Toyota to get to the root of a problem. When you find the same problem cropping up over and over, ask yourself why a minimum of five times to help find a solution. Here’s an example:

  • Problem: I’m often late to my morning class. Why? Because I oversleep. Why? Because I stay up late working on homework. Why? Because I often put off doing my assignments until the night before. Why? Because I would rather be watching Netflix. Why? Because it’s addicting.
  • Although there’s little you can do about the addictive nature of Netflix, you can make an effort to stop cramming for tests or working on homework until the wee hours by setting deadlines, starting early and breaking up large assignments into smaller, more manageable chunks.
  1. The power of habits

Habits are very important when talking about organization because they can help, or hurt, your ability to stay organized. Analyze your habits to identify areas where you can make improvements. For example, I have a goal to cut back buying food on campus, but I usually don’t have time in the morning to pack food to eat throughout the day. I can make it habit to pack a lunch and snacks the night before, so it’s all ready to go when I’m walking out the door in the morning.

  1. Urgency vs. importance

Too often we focus on putting out small fires instead of letting our priorities guide where and how we spend our time. Kathie and Melissa suggest identifying three major priorities and creating a to-do list of action items around those overarching goals. We all know urgent things crop up, but having these set helps keep you on task after the fire has been extinguished.

  1. Delegate

This sounds like something you can only do in the workplace when you’re leading others, but students can use technology to delegate tasks. Don’t have a personal assistant to remind you about that meeting? Use a calendar app and set a reminder. The 30 seconds it takes to input the meeting time and location can save you time and stress later. Need to stay current on a certain topic for class or a project? Use Google News alerts. These tools can save you time, allowing you to work smarter, not harder. Here’s a flowchart that can help:
workflow chart

Are you already organized and on top of things? We’d love to hear your strategy. Let us know in the comments. Ball State graduate assistants can attend the university’s Learning & Development sessions for employees on a variety of topics including leadership, speaking, project management and communication.