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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.