Going the Distance in Online Education

FEATURED ARTICLE | NOVEMBER 1, 2016 | BY NICOLE ZAHN, UB SON DNP STUDENT

When I first started UB School of Nursing’s online RN-BS program, I had mixed feelings about how I would manage completing a degree online.

The flexibility of deciding the times of the day I would dedicate to school was a perk, but I still had some reservations: Would communication between the instructors and students be sufficient and timely? How can students complete a group project online? Would I be able to meet the deadlines?

As I navigated the program, my concerns were alleviated. My instructors were very organized and had great communication with the students. Group projects, though challenging to organize at first, allowed for flexibility in our collaboration because we didn’t have to work around class meetings. I also learned how to manage my time and busy schedule in a way that continues to benefit me outside of the (virtual) classroom.

Having successfully completed the program (class of 2016!), I can now say with confidence that earning my degree through distance learning was the best option for me. And, along the way, I discovered a few tips that helped me on my road to success:

1. Stay organized

Students have much more independence when taking an online course. Although you still need to adhere to the posted assignment deadlines, there are not required class times, so you can choose your own dedicated time to review class material. For me, it was easiest, at the beginning of every week, to review required readings, upcoming assignments and due dates to stay ahead.

2. Follow the rubrics and syllabus

The syllabus details, week by week, the course’s required (and suggested) materials, including readings, assignments, exams and any other resources or deliverables. Rubrics outline quality expectations for each assignment and offer an opportunity to critique your own work. Assignment rubrics include requirements that must be fulfilled to receive full credit. For example, discussion board rubrics include required frequency of posts and responses, as well as other criteria like references/citations.

Read your syllabus and rubrics thoroughly and continually refer to them throughout the semester. These are very important documents in online courses because they act as a guide for the entire semester. If something is unclear, ask the instructor!

3. Communicate with your instructors

Never hesitate to email or call an instructor if you have a question regarding an assignment or the course. Often times, other students have the same or a similar question – your questions help both you and your classmates to better learn the materials. Also, be timely with your communication with instructors – sooner is better when communicating with faculty. The more time you give them, the more they can help you. 

4. Don't procrastinate

The hardest (and best) part about taking online courses is deciding when to complete your work. It can be easy to tell yourself you will get to an assignment later, but life happens. The free time you anticipated early in the week isn’t always a guarantee. It is best not to procrastinate – utilize the timeframe the instructor gives you for each assignment to plan ahead! Completing assignments in advance, when possible, made my life much more manageable.  

The most important thing you should remember while taking online courses is that you are not alone!

Even though you are completing your assignments off campus, you have support from faculty and other students when you need it. Form connections with other students during discussions and group projects – you can talk to classmates to about the course material and assignments, and you become familiar with the interests of your fellow classmates. I encourage online students to find at least one other student to communicate with throughout each course.

There may be times that are stressful, especially if you do not have previous experience with distance learning. However, there are many resources -- whether it is the online library, instructors or other online students – that when fully utilized can help you achieve a depth of knowledge that we have come to expect from the traditional classroom.

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