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My Semester as a First-Time Online Student

cody bourque -- Tue, 12/08/2015 - 9:15am

So with the final week of the semester approaching, I’d like to give final word about my semester as a first time online student during my last semester of college. First, I’d like to say that online learning is much different than traditional classes where learning in a physical classroom. Online learning is like buying a piece of furniture that isn’t assembled; you have all the pieces to succeed, you’ve just got to follow the instructions. The analogy is a little odd, but it’s true. You’re given all of the tools you need to succeed in the beginning of the course, you’ve just got to keep your learning on schedule to succeed.

The course I was enrolled in was English 474 which is Document Design. I needed to take the course, because I am an English - Professional Writing major and the course was offered online only. I wasn’t upset about having to take the course online, but I was worried. I had never taken a course online and I had no idea what to expect. I knew myself and I knew how sometimes I could procrastinate. I had a problem putting papers off to the last minute! Knowing I needed to succeed and do the best I could during my last semester before graduating, I made a promise to myself that I would try to overcome my bad habits and worries.

Getting started with the course was awkward for me. The first week of school is all about going to your classes and getting a feel for the teacher and how things will run in the class. You have a schedule and you follow it. With an online course, there is no set time or day in which you visit that class. During the first week of class, I was honestly so busy worrying about buying books and getting settled into the semester that I almost forgot that I was in an online course. I had logged into to Moodle and started to download all of my class syllabi, which meant I had to face the fact that I was in this online course and I needed to handle it to graduate.

The worries I had about my online course was not because it was an online course, it was because it was a course about something that was relatively new to me. I was worried I would be unable to grasp what I needed to succeed in the course with it being strictly online. My worries were real and probably some of the same worries that many students enrolling into an online course for the first time feel as well.

My worry about not being able to grasp the concepts of Document Design started to fade after the first week of class. Our instructor was very helpful and very hands on. He was able to give us the experience that you would get in a physical classroom, but in an online course. He used Google +, which is a social media program used to connect people by being able to instant message, video chat, and share different types of media within the context of this program. It was helpful for our teacher to be able to video his lectures, do live question and answer sessions, and share examples of how certain documents should look along with how they should be done. With my teacher’s hands on approach, it helped with the uncertainty I had about the course. I felt as if I was going to be able to do well in the course as I hoped.

The first month of the course was filled with weekly reading assignments and assignments where we attempted to execute the skills and concepts that we had read about that week. The weekly assignments were graded as participation rather than for correctness. Our teacher wanted to ensure that we were trying to apply the skills and concepts that we were learning about. He did this by give each of us detailed feedback on how well we did or how we could improve our usage of the skill. We used each skill on our own websites that we were required to create in order to show off each skill. The feedback he gave us was very constructive and gave us an idea of what we needed to achieve with each particular skill.

Our first project for the course was a remediation of a document. A remediation of a document means that you take information from one medium and transfer it to another medium. For this project, I took an essay I did last semester and compiled it into a powerpoint. The task was to not simply copy and paste the information, but to take the information and revise it to fit that particular medium. With this project, I caught on quickly. I earned a B on the project. My only downfall in the project was that I put too much detail into the powerpoint as to where I should have left it short and summarized. The criticism I received for my project was constructive and informative. My professor did a good job of telling me exactly how I could have improved my project.

After this project, we went another month of learning more advanced concepts and skills. With these skills, we were going to create a style guide for our website and use the style guide to create several documents for our website such as newsletters, event flyers, and a multi-page document like a user’s manual. A style guide entails how each component of your website is to be composed and kept consistent with each document. After completing each document and turning them in, I simply expected a grade and that’s it. Nope, my professor, Mr. Randy Gonzales, gave me a full spread of compliments and criticism in hopes that I can use them in my professional career.

For anyone who worries that online courses may be confusing because you won’t have someone there to help you like in a normal classroom environment, then worry no more. I had the same feeling and it was quickly proven to be nonsense. My experience with online learning may not reflect every class or course, but it should be a testament to how most online courses are doing to enhance the learning experience of their students especially at The University of Louisiana at Lafayette.