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How to Be Successful in an Online Course

There are things you can do to maximize your chances for success in an online course at UT. These include issues to consider prior to signing up, things to accomplish before class begins, and actions to take during the semester.

Online courses at UT are not designed to be easier or less challenging than other courses. The difference between an online course and face-to-face course is not the content or level of academic rigor. The difference is in the method of delivery and the means by which you’ll be communicating and interacting with your instructor and classmates.

Online courses at UT are delivered using Canvas and Zoom or some combination. After logging into Cavas with your NetID and password, you’ll see a list of courses in which you are enrolled. The Canvas course site is a primary means for delivering online course content and facilitating interaction. Keep in mind that all courses at UT, whether delivered on campus or online have accompanying Canvas sites.

If you are taking an online course, you will not be sitting in a classroom on campus at a specified time each week. Instead, you may be interacting with group members in a Canvas discussion forum, watching lecture videos several times a week, or meeting online using Zoom. In an online course, you still have assignments to complete, deadlines to meet, papers to write and tests to take.

What motivates you to leave the residence hall and walk to the Hill in the rain? The ambiance of Ayers, the workout itself, the chance to see how construction on the new student union is coming along? Or, is it the fact that you’ll be face to face with your professor and classmates, and so you not only decided to attend class, but to come prepared for discussions and group activities?

In an online class you will not be sharing the same physical space three times a week with your professor and peers. This may seem more than okay, but remember that participation, preparation and attendance are also important in online classes. However, certain motivating factors, which exist inherently in a traditional classroom setting, may be absent in an online course. You will need higher than average levels of self-motivation and self-direction in order to be successful.

There are numerous resources you can access to learn more about Canvas and Zoom. While these platforms are not particularly complicated or difficult to use, being a successful online student means taking the time to understand and feel comfortable with the tools used in the virtual classroom. As you move through your coursework (both online and on-campus), stay informed about technology updates and upgrades at the university.

If you are generally opposed to electronic mail, please don’t take an online course. Why? Because your professor is going to use your UT email address as the primary means of communicating important information. Therefore, you will need to check your UT email on a daily basis.

This will allow you to respond to messages in a timely manner. Telling your instructor that you “didn’t see the message,” may not absolve you from the negative consequences of missing course updates or other time-sensitive information.

Read the entire document carefully, and make note of the following: assignments, due dates, online meeting times (if any), exam dates, discussion board parameters, readings, technology requirements – basically, any and everything related to your coursework and the expectations for participation identified by your instructor. If you have questions, contact your instructor immediately – don’t wait until two or three weeks of class have gone by to reach out and get clarification.

It’s very important to stay connected with your instructor during an online course. You can communicate through email, Canvas, Zoom, virtual office hours, on-campus office hours and other methods deemed appropriate by your instructor. There is also a device known as the telephone, which according to ancient lore, was once used as rather effective means for real-time interaction. Seriously, if you have a concern or a question, communicate with your instructor. You’ll both be glad you did.

This may be the most important recommendation for achieving success in an online course. A credit-bearing course at UT generally lasts 16 weeks. 4 months may seem like an eternity, but keep this in mind: college football season, including conference championship is 16 weeks long. An average season of The Walking Dead is 16 episodes. 16 weeks goes by quickly!! The last thing you want to be doing the day before a mid-term or exam is binge-watching a series of lecture videos for the first time. You won’t be able to cram all of the important information into your brain, and your stress level will rise.

Stay on track, and keep up with your coursework throughout the entire semester. Don’t procrastinate! Your instructors understand how important this is and are generous enough to give you assignments, readings, quizzes, case studies, and other types of learning activities that must be completed each week.

Online asynchronous classes are delivered through Canvas, and individual instructors design and develop their own course sites. This means there’s a chance each Bb course site may look slightly different from one another, in terms of items in the main menu and overall organization. Take time early in the semester to read and review the course site in depth so you are aware of how your instructor organizes information and utilizes areas of Bb.  This is your virtual classroom for the term and you should have a good understanding of where important information and resources are located. You should also check your Bb course site on a regular basis for announcements and updates.

Learning is a social process and should not be limited because your primary learning environment is online, rather than on campus. Interacting with your classmates and peers is essential. There are numerous tools available for communication, including email, discussion boards and Zoom. If you have a question, feel overwhelmed, or want to share a breakthrough, there’s a good chance one or more of your classmates will have an answer, feel the same way, or benefit from your new knowledge.

It’s important to maintain awareness of your grades and weekly progress within an online course. It’s also important for you to be aware of your bigger picture, one that should include your steady movement toward graduation. UT has several online resources, including Degree Audit Reporting System (DARS), and uTrack that let you take a pro-active approach to achieving success by keeping you up to date on your overall progress at the university. You can also keep track of your money, your classes and your student records by visiting OneStop.

Academic advisors at UT are department or college-based faculty or staff members, who work with you to develop your academic plan, and help you identify and achieve your academic and professional goals. Schedule an advising appointment early each semester.

If you are an undergraduate student, locate an academic advisor in your area of study and schedule an appointment through the GradesFirst system on your MyUTK home page. For more details, including information on graduate academic advising, visit OneStop-scheduling academic advising.

UT has fantastic people and numerous resources available to assist you, whether you’re learning online or on-campus. There is even a unit called the Student Success Center, which promotes undergraduate student excellence and persistence to graduation through tutoring, supplemental instruction, academic coaching and student support programs.

You don’t have to be a new college student in order to benefit from these resources. If you need support and assistance, reach out to the to the Student Success Center, the Office of Multicultural Student Life, and other academic support services available to UT students. 

Get Ready

Prepare yourself for online learning at UT! Getting Ready for Online Learning includes questions for you to consider and resources designed to help you make the most of your online learning experience.

Get Started

Visit the FAQs page for details about starting your online learning experience.

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