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Tips for Online Success

student at a computer

The following is a list of tips our current online students and alumni put together for you to help you succeed as a distance/online student:

1. Workload. Graduate programs generally require more work (time and effort) than an undergraduate program. Let's face it, if it were easy everyone would do it, right? Plan a minimum of 8-10 hours per week per course in graduate school and sign up for courses accordingly, especially if you are employed full time. Many students work full-time and take 6 credits, but others find that working full-time they can only handle 3 credits. There are so many variables to consider that one-size does not fit all. You know your life better than anyone else, so you can decide what works for you. In general, it is not advised for graduate students working even part-time to take more than three graduate level courses in a semester. This recommendation will naturally depend on your own strengths and weaknesses, as well. Therefore, perhaps better to test yourself first with a smaller workload. Finally, create a schedule for studying/class time and stick to it. Otherwise, you can easily get overwhelmed or just get behind. 

2. Required On-campus Orientation. Many students testify that the required on-campus orientation prepared them well for graduate school expectations. We advise you that you attend it without exception. You will also meet many of the students, instructors, and staff that will form your graduate experience. You will also meet students in your cohort with whom you may collaborate within your coursework. Meeting them face-to-face will make it easier to work together since you are already acquainted.

3. Registering for Online Courses. When registering for online courses via banner.usu.edu, make sure you look for the letter designation among the course section IDs. There will be several sections for the same course, so it is very important that you enroll in the correct one for your location. Out of state sections start with a Z. The on-campus, face-to-face sections are all numbers, no letters (e.g. 001).

4. Blended, Online or Broadcast. There are different types of distance courses that you can take. Some of them are completely asynchronous and online (meaning that you can access them at your own time), while others may be synchronous (meaning that you actually need to log in and be virtually present in that class), even though they too are online. Though it is important that you gain experience in all the delivery formats, some formats may suit your personality, studying routine or work schedule better than others. To inform yourself about the courses you are interested in, check out syllabi from previous years (from the ITLS website), contact your peers, or e-mail the instructor.

5. Communication. Make sure you ask questions, follow the syllabus and Canvas announcement to be sure that you know what is due and if/when a deadline changed. If you are a new student, it may take you a while to get used to this new form of communication. 

  • Canvas will give you an option to add Canvas calendar to your gmail calendar. This may help you keep track of your deadlines in one place. 
  • Life happens. We understand. But, it is always better to communicate any unforeseen challenges to your instructors BEFORE you miss your deadline, than after.
  • Make use of our listserve (inst@lists.usu.edu), the ITSA Canvas Toolkit, and the ITSA Facebook group to ask other students for help and advice. 

6. Computer. As a distance/online student, it will be very important for you to have a good computer/laptop with reliable and fast Internet connection. Your computer should also include a microphone/speaker. There may be an option to take a synchronous class that will require sound and/or video capabilities, and it may also be very helpful for communicating with your peers and instructors. Try and solve any hardware issues BEFORE classes start. 

  • USU bookstore sometimes offers good deals to USU students for purchasing computers: https://campusstore.usu.edu/
  • Local libraries also sometimes provide renting or access options for their members, so it is worth investigating. 

7. Software and hardware. Some of your classes will require you to use/have access to certain software and hardware (e.g., a video camera or PhotoShop). Though all such software is available in ITLS on-campus lab and we provide daily rentable hardware for on-campus students, online/distance students are expected to secure their own access. 

  • USU bookstore has certain software deals for students: https://campusstore.usu.edu/c-57-student-software.aspx#c
  • Many manufacturers offer special discounts for students with your university e-mail, so you can explore that option, too. Frequently, you can only buy a license for a limited time (duration of your semester). 
  • Some software is free or has a free trial period. 
  • Some software (e.g. SPSS for research method) is available remotely through USU: https://apps.usu.edu/vpn/index.html
  • Note: if you are using software at work or on a borrowed laptop, check with your instructor PRIOR to class if you actually have the right version of the software needed, as this also can sometimes cause problems.
  • If you are a USU employee, IT has some additional options for you: http://it.usu.edu/usu-employees
  • Many courses do not require any additional software. 
  • Check with your instructor if there is a free alternative for the software that you need and whether it is acceptable that you use it (eg. Gimp for Photoshop, Inkscape for Illustrator etc.)

8. Time Difference. Do you live in a different time zone than Mountain Time (MT)? If so, your assignment deadlines will be different (e.g., a midnight deadline in Utah is a 2 a.m. deadline in Michigan, but an 11:00 p.m. deadline in Oregon). You may need to navigate around the work schedule of your homework partners accordingly. When collaborating in a group assignment, confirm a workable schedule with all members as soon as possible. Perhaps the best advice we can give you is to do and submit homework BEFORE the deadline whenever possible.

9. Build your Online Portfolio. Don't settle for easy projects. The ultimate goal of your graduate experience should be to build a skilled and professional online portfolio where you advertise your experience, knowledge and skills and which can, consequently, help you find a good job after graduation. In other words, every class you take should provide you with an end project (such as a video, demonstration, handout, reflection paper, etc.) which you can add to your online portfolio. Many students recommend learning various tools, such as Articulate, Captivate, LMSs and so on, but don't forget that tools change and vary among different companies. Therefore, it is critical to develop foundational theoretical knowledge, as well.