Online Education For Dummies 9

Meeting the People in (And around) Your Classroom

In This Chapter ▶ Working well with your instructor and classmates ▶ Introducing the folks behind the scenes Remember the first day of school when you couldn’t wait to find out who your teacher was and who was in your class? In the online classroom, that same kind of excitement (or nervousness) exists. Unless you’re enrolled in an independent study with no interaction with anyone but your professor, you want to figure out who else is in (and around) your classroom and how they relate to you.
People in the online classroom tend to fall into two camps: those who are very visible and those who work behind the scenes.
✓ The visible people — your instructor and the other students: You want to identify how your instructor works and the ways in which he communicates with you. You also want to get to know the other students and how you work with them as a member of the community. ✓ The people behind the scenes: Not everyone in the online classroom works front and center. You may encounter guest lecturers, administrative staff monitoring how the class is progressing, or technical staff. All these people help make sure the system works and that you get the best educational experience for your money. Plus, your personal support system of family and friends cannot be discounted.
This chapter helps you sort out all the people you meet in your online experience.

Getting to Know the Folks Who Are Front and Center During your time in class, the people you interact with most frequently are your instructor and the other students. They’re the folks who shape your overall online experience the most, so knowing what to expect from them and how to conduct yourself around them is important. We explain what you need to know in the following sections.
Acquainting yourself with your instructor An instructor, simply stated, is the person who’s in charge of your online classroom — he runs the show. In the following sections, we explain the credentials and training that instructors need, describe where to find your instructor in the online classroom, and provide pointers on communicating effectively with your instructor.
What you call your instructor may vary from course to course or school to school. Typically, professor denotes full-time, tenured faculty, whereas instructor or adjunct instructor signifies that the individual may not have full-time employment. A facilitator is another term some schools use to describe the instructor role, especially within the online learning environment. If the titles of instructor or facilitator have any significance (they don’t always), it’s to denote that the students have a lot more responsibility in making connections in the learning and the facilitator helps this happen. Throughout this book, we use the terms instructor and facilitator interchangeably to describe the role, regardless of title or rank.
Necessary credentials and training for instructors The same requirements and qualifications for teaching in a traditional faceto-face class apply to teaching online. In the two-year or community college system, that may mean having a master’s degree in the discipline; in a fouryear university, institutions may require an instructor to have a doctorate degree in order to teach graduate level courses. In a virtual high school, the instructor needs to meet the state’s requirements for certification or licensure, which begin with a bachelor’s degree.
Online institutions also request that instructors complete some kind of online training in order to teach. The best schools go beyond showing instructors what buttons to push and include more information about how online learning is different from traditional classroom education. By exploring what makes online learning unique, your instructor can better manage the virtual classroom and teach more effectively. In fact, most higher education faculty aren’t hired for their teaching skills; they’re hired for their subject matter

expertise (for instance, if an institution needs a geology professor, it finds someone with knowledge in geology). Therefore, if your online instructor has additional training in “how to teach,” he’s probably more advanced in understanding how to help students learn than he might be if he were teaching in a traditional classroom. As a student, you win!
How do you find out about your instructor’s credentials? Typically, you can find a listing of faculty somewhere within the institutional Web site. This may be organized by program or discipline. Each instructor probably has a Web page that welcomes students and includes credentials. When in doubt, this is a great question to ask as you search for the right school. We talk a little more about this in Chapter 4.
Where you “see” your instructor Rather than standing in front of a traditional class, lecturing and directing students’ behavior, the person in charge of your online classroom makes information available and creatively gets students involved in thinking about and working with those concepts. He guides students toward understanding the material.
In the virtual world, you don’t have the advantage of looking at your instructor, live and in person. Yet, a good online instructor lets his presence be “seen” in several ways:
✓ Your instructor may communicate with the whole class by posting ongoing announcements and news. You can typically find these postings on the main page when you log in (see Chapter 8 for details on logging in and navigating your classroom), but some instructors communicate this kind of information through e-mail. Instructors make announcements to keep students on task, remind them of deadlines, or enrich their understanding with additional resources and links. ✓ You may see your instructor busy in the discussion area. Many online courses require students to interact with each other by posting answers to discussion questions and extending the conversations through replies to one another. Often, instructors facilitate these discussions by raising additional considerations, asking for clarification, or extending questions that probe deeper into the material. How much your instructor gets involved in discussions depends on the nature of the class and his own style. If you’re a graduate student in an advanced seminar, chances are you and your classmates are going to need very little guidance to explore course themes. However, if you’re taking an entry-level psychology course, your instructor may be much more active in guiding the discussion. ✓ Ultimately, you see your instructor through the grades and feedback he provides. As assignments are scored, instructors comment and leave notes in grade books. The instructor may also e-mail you this information

privately. This feedback helps you close the loop so that you understand not only what you know, but what you still need to figure out. Giving quality feedback takes a great deal of time, so be sure to read the comments your instructor leaves for you. For example, if your instructor tells you to be more careful with how you cite research (or suggests that you start citing!), check your course for tutorials and additional links to citation resources. If you really want to earn points, send a sample citation back and tell the instructor where you learned to format it. That shows you are paying attention and value the input.
Communicating effectively with your instructor Your instructor communicates with you as a member of the class and privately, but how should you communicate with the instructor? To start, find out how he prefers to be addressed. Some instructors expect you to address all correspondence with their title, such as Professor Manning. Some prefer Dr. Manning, but check to see that you have the correct title! Others are more casual and ask you to call them by their first name.
You can usually get a sense of how the instructor prefers to be addressed based on e-mail he may have sent to you prior to the start of the class or course documents such as a welcome page or announcements he may have left in the course. Look at how he signs those pieces of correspondence. Does he refer to himself as Professor or does he sign his first name? Follow the instructor’s lead.
What’s in a doctorate title? What’s the difference between a PhD and an EdD when you read academic titles? ✓ PhD is short for Doctor of Philosophy, and is a terminal degree (meaning you can’t get higher than this). It generally requires 2 to 4 years of coursework beyond a master’s degree and original research in the field of specialty. People in hard sciences (sciences considered to be more scientific), such as chemistry and computer science, earn PhDs. PhDs are also conferred upon those in the social sciences such as sociology, psychology, and education. These fields are often referred to as the soft sciences. ✓ EdD stands for Doctor of Education. This is very similar to a PhD in that it’s a terminal degree requiring 2 to 4 years of coursework beyond a master’s degree and original research in the field of specialty. Some argue that the EdD is more practice-based, whereas, the PhD is more research based. In addition, as you might expect, the EdD is specific to educators. Other fields have their own terminal degrees. For example, the terminal law degree for professionals is the JD, which stands for Juris Doctor. Another example is the MFA, which is the terminal degree for those in applied arts. A third example is the MLS or MLIS for librarians, which stands for Master’s degree in Library Science or Library and Information Sciences.

You should also figure out whether your communication should be public or private.
✓ Public communication: If you have a question about how the course works or where you can find some information, initiate communication in a public forum such as your discussion area. Be sure to read any FAQs or announcements before you ask, however, because many times teachers answer questions in advance. If you choose to initiate communication publicly, be sure to ask and not immediately jump to the conclusion that the information isn’t available. To avoid making instructors sound fickle, diplomacy goes a long way. For example, rather than say, “You haven’t included instructions on . . .” an instructor would much rather read, “I can’t seem to locate the instructions on . . ., although I’m sure you included these.” ✓ Private communication: If your question deals with grades or personal issues, initiate a private e-mail. By all means, if you have a criticism or you find something in the course that isn’t working, use diplomacy and communicate privately. Examples may include typographical errors or hyperlinks that don’t work. For example, you could write, “I realize you have no control over Web sites that aren’t part of this class, but I just wanted to let you know that one of the links appears to be broken.” That’s much better than, “Hey, you’re sending me on a wild goose chase!”
Instructors like contact with students; otherwise, they wouldn’t be in this business. You don’t need to send a daily e-mail, but in some situations you should definitely communicate with your instructor:
✓ If you’ll be away: Let your instructor know if you have an emergency that will take you away from the course for more than a couple days. Be sure to let the instructor know how you plan to make up for lost time or keep up with the course. ✓ If you experience technical difficulties: Tell your instructor if your computer has crashed and you’re operating from a different venue, or if you’ve experienced some technical issue and have reported it to technical support personnel. (We discuss technical support in more detail later in this chapter.) ✓ If you get major feedback: When you receive individualized feedback from the instructor on a major project, consider acknowledging it and addressing any follow-up questions he may have asked. You don’t have to do this for typical weekly assignments! ✓ If you’re an overachiever: If you’re one of those students who really excels and wants to work beyond course requirements, contact your instructor and ask for some additional resources and guidance. Obviously, teachers love these kinds of questions!

✓ If you’re having trouble: On the other hand, if you’re struggling with the course, either because the content is too difficult or life is getting in the way, let your instructor know at the first warning signs. This may be a situation in which the instructor diplomatically suggests you take the course at another time, but you save face by letting him know in advance and not failing without warning.
Interacting with fellow students In the online education environment, you deal with your fellow classmates daily. Learning online is rarely an isolated, independent event and can be quite social! In the following sections, we explain how to get to know the other students and how to get along.
Introducing yourself and getting to know your peers When you first register for an online course, you’re given an identification name that you use to log in to your virtual classroom. This name is often a variation of your first and last names. For example, John Smith might have a login name of jsmith3. Some virtual classrooms attach this identification to all discussion posts, assignment submissions, and e-mails.
Always sign your work and begin to build your online persona under your identification name. For example, at the end of all of coauthor Kevin’s posts (under the name kejohns), he writes “Have a GREAT day! Kevin Johnson, Urbana, Illinois.” Without that signature, other students may never associate Kevin Johnson with the username kejohns, which makes the online environment seem sterile and unfriendly. Plus, it’s kind of fun to see where others are logging in from, literally.
Once you correlate usernames to your peers’ actual names, it’s easy to make assumptions about cultural and academic backgrounds. It’s true that your peers will come from diverse backgrounds and will be spread out around the world, but stay away from assuming stereotypical information such as gender, race, socioeconomic status, and intelligence. A lot of Pat’s, Chris’s, and Ryan’s have had their gender identities switched mistakenly through stereotyping. These stereotypes can damage the dynamics of an online classroom. As a matter of fact, it’s this diversity and the sharing of different perspectives that, when appreciated and celebrated, enrich the learning experience for everyone.
If you have a name that doesn’t immediately tell your classmates that you’re female or male, or if you have a name that’s uncommon in American classrooms (like Uday, Kamiko, or Ping), you may choose to disclose your gender by referring to yourself as a mother, father, sister, brother, male nurse, or something along those lines. By doing this, you reduce the possibility of your instructor and classmates embarrassing themselves by using assumptive language when referencing you and your work.

with you is a picture of themselves. Some of your peers may choose to share a photo of them at work, with family, or even swimming with dolphins during their last vacation. Having a picture to go along with a name can provide an element of connection. You may even be amazed at how you imagine your peers’ pictures in your mind when you read their posts and e-mails.
Knowing your peers can help you understand more about who they are and what amazing contributions they can add to the learning experience. If your class requires a biography-type assignment, take the time to read the introductions of your peers and get to know them better. You’ll notice that some students can log in three times a day because of their lifestyles (for example, they’re retired or temporarily unemployed), whereas others may barely make it to class three times a week. The biographies help explain that and allow you to be a little more compassionate toward your classmates’ circumstances.
When it comes to writing your own profile, you want to make a good impression in a very small amount of space. Provide your instructor and classmates with an overview of who you are without boring them with all the microdetails. For formal profiles, it’s recommended that you write in third person. However, for most classroom introductions, writing in first person is acceptable and comes across as being less formal. Consider adding some of the following information:
✓ Name and geographic location: Provide your full name and where you reside. You don’t have to give your full address — your city and state are fine if you live in the states and your country/territory is sufficient if you live outside the United States. ✓ Professional background: Provide your readers with a brief understanding of what you do and your professional history if appropriate. Remember to keep it brief. Summarize your experiences into only one or two sentences, even if you’ve been in the field for 25 years. ✓ Academic background: Let your peers know where you are in your education and why you’ve chosen the program or course you’re in enrolled in. ✓ Personal information: Feel free to share personal information such as whether you’re married, whether you have children or pets, or what your favorite hobbies are. This reminds others that they are in class with other human beings who have outside interests and responsibilities.
Playing well with others View your online classroom as a community of peers you don’t get to see every day — like co-workers, if you will. Just like at work, sometimes you need to use a professional voice, and other times you can goof around.
Communicate formally when you submit assignments that are going to be read by the whole group. If you’re required to write a summary of the main points of the unit, for example, write in a scholarly manner, with appropriate references

and correct grammar, and without unsubstantiated opinion. Your classmates will figure out very quickly that you’re an A student and take this seriously. If you don’t, you’ll quickly be read as someone who either lacks polish or just doesn’t care. We say more about writing style in Chapter 14, but for now, recognize that people will judge you based on written communication.
On the other hand, there are plenty of times when you can lighten up. For example, when you respond to someone else’s work, you may not need to be as formal. An example comment would be, “Hey, Molly, you’re my idol. You brought up some excellent examples. I really appreciated how you. . . .”
Finally, you can just relax and shoot the breeze at times. Many online classes have a place where you can share information that isn’t related to the course. It might be called the student lounge or café. Don’t be afraid to help build community by sharing work examples, personal stories, and even social happenings such as a conference you attended. These experiences directly benefit learning in that they connect what you are learning to real life, and anytime you make those connections, the concepts are reinforced.
At all costs, avoid writing comments that are glib, sarcastic, or sloppy. For example, you wouldn’t want to write, “You are such a princess!” if you mean to suggest that an alternative view exists and the reader just isn’t seeing it. Similarly, “i no wat ur sayin” just doesn’t work in a classroom context.
Students who take the time to get to know their peers, communicate often, and consistently participate go a long way toward building community. The group begins to trust one another when they realize those are real people on the other end of the computer screen. That trust comes in handy when you need to work together collaboratively. If one of your classmates needs some special consideration in a group assignment, for instance, the group is more likely to grant it to someone who has pulled his weight and contributed previously, versus someone who has only been sitting in the background and hasn’t cared to interact. The same human dynamics you find in a traditional classroom play out online.
Seeing Who’s Behind the Scenes We predict you’ll spend so much time interacting with your fellow students and instructor, you won’t notice the following groups of people. But they’re present and working behind the scenes to ensure your success. These people include guests, technical and academic support staff, and friends and family. This section helps you understand who they are and the differences they can make in your educational experience.

Noting classroom guests and observers Much like the face-to-face classroom, you may or may not notice several outside guests visiting the virtual classroom. Outsiders can include guest speakers, support staff, and administrators. Following are some of the people you may see:
✓ Teaching assistants: Some online classes are large enough that the instructor needs help facilitating the course. In this situation, teaching assistants may be utilized to help with tasks such as facilitating discussion, answering questions, and grading assignments. Students should interact with teaching assistants in the same manner they do their instructor. ✓ Librarians: Gone are the days of thinking about librarians as the people who look over their glasses and shush you for being too loud in the library. Besides, how can you be too noisy in a virtual library? There are several instances in which you may “run into” a librarian from your institution. Your instructor may invite a librarian to guest-lecture in your classroom as a way of encouraging library use and helping you learn how to conduct research for a specific assignment. Or, you may get the chance to chat with a librarian live when you need help navigating the virtual library. No matter the situation, your institution’s librarian is a great resource. Communication with librarians can be more casual, but you should still keep it professional. ✓ Guest lecturers: Hearing about different experiences from professionals within the field is important for students. After all, one of the biggest benefits of online learning is that your instructor can connect you with professionals around the world that you may not normally get to learn from. For this purpose, your instructor may ask a practitioner to join the class to share his experiences and answer student questions. This can be done using discussion boards or a live event such as a conference call or a Web conference over the Internet. In any case, do what you can to actively participate in these opportunities. Thank the guest for sharing time and talents, and then ask a question that shows a real interest in the work. ✓ Administrative staff: Have you ever taken a class where the instructor asks you to ignore the person in the back of the room taking notes, explaining that the person is there to observe the instructor’s teaching abilities? The same thing happens in the online environment; you just may not know it. Because online education is rather new, institutions often set quality standards specific to an instructor’s ability to teach online. The only way to know whether the instructor is meeting these standards is to log in and observe. Administrative staff may log in to your course and take note of the instructor’s language use, frequency of communication, and response time to student questions. Again, you may or may not know this is going on. Either way, the process helps assure that you are getting the best education possible.

Administrative staff also interact with students when they need to resolve a conflict between the instructor and a student, when there’s a question regarding a final grade that was assigned, or when they’re seeking feedback regarding the quality of the overall program. It’s important to know who your administrative staff are and to always interact with them in a professional manner. Administrative staff include the department chairperson of your program, the dean of the college, the institution’s dean of academic affairs, and the department’s administrative assistant.
All the preceding personnel are required to follow a set of federal guidelines to protect and respect your privacy. None of them are permitted to share contact information or change your grade.
Calling on technical support The purpose of technical support is to support and complement the learning process of both instructors and students. They won’t appear in your course roster like your peers, but they are there to help you succeed. In fact, technical support is so important, you’ll most likely be given that contact information even before you log in to your course. In the following sections, we explain how technical support staff can help you and how to ask for that help. We also tell you when tech support can’t be of service — and how to find solutions on your own.
Most institutions have information about how to contact technical support somewhere on their Web site so it’s quick and easy to find. Contact information may include a phone number, an e-mail address, or even a link to chat with a live person via the Internet. Write down the technical support contact information and keep it in your wallet or purse in case you need it at work, while traveling, or when the Internet connection is down, and you can’t get to your classroom’s Web site.
What technical support can fix Technical support staff focus strictly on the technology they provide for interacting with their products and services. For example, institutions provide technical support if you’ve lost your password for logging in to your course or if you’re unable to physically access the registration Web site.
Before calling technical support, ask yourself: “Who owns the technology that I can’t get to work?” For example, if you’re writing a paper for your class and your word processing program keeps crashing, you have to contact the company that created the word processing application.

Here’s a list of times you should definitely contact your institution’s technical support staff. Call them if
✓ You can’t log into your course. ✓ You can get into your course, but pages don’t load. ✓ You can’t get a synchronous tool to load (like a chat window). ✓ You try to post an assignment and nothing happens, or you get an error message. ✓ You can’t access other necessary Web sites, such as the library. ✓ You can’t remember your password, or your account has been locked after too many failed attempts.
If the technology required by a class is working but you’re simply having trouble learning how to use it, contact your instructor first. Your instructor is responsible for facilitating the learning process, including the use of instructional technology. If your instructor can’t help you, he will forward you to the appropriate support staff.
If, for some reason, technical support staff can’t resolve a problem immediately or you’ve attempted to contact them several times without success, it’s important that you contact your instructor. In fact, some instructors like to know any time you contact technical support — not because they want to get involved, but because they care about whether you’re having difficulty. Letting your instructor know that you’re having a problem and what you’re doing about it tells the instructor you are responsible and committed. It also allows the instructor to inform your peers in the class if the problem is universal. (If the specific problem pertains to submission of homework, go ahead and submit your assignment to your instructor via e-mail when possible, to provide you and your instructor with a time-stamped submission of the completed assignment.)
Asking for help appropriately If you need immediate help, don’t use e-mail to contact technical support. You may not get a response for up to 24 hours, and it can take even longer if additional information is needed.
What is immediate? Your idea of immediate and technical support’s idea may not coincide. If you find at 11:59 p.m. that you can’t post an assignment that’s due by midnight, that’s probably not the best time to call technical support and expect an immediate response. If at all possible, call during normal working hours. You may also want to see whether live chat support is available, and what hours you can use that service.

Anytime you contact technical support, provide them with as much information as possible. The more information you can provide, the more likely your problem can be solved immediately. Here’s a checklist of information you should be prepared to provide when something goes wrong:
✓ Your full name. ✓ Your student ID. ✓ The course ID and full course title. ✓ Your instructor’s name. ✓ The Web page you were on when the problem occurred. ✓ A description of what you were doing immediately before the problem occurred. ✓ Your computer’s operating system, such as Mac OS, Windows, or Linux. Most people know the answer to this question, but they may not know what version they’re using. Finding the version you’re using is different on each machine, so check your manual or ask a technical support staff member to help you find it when needed. Once you know it, write it down for future reference. ✓ The Internet browser you were using, such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Safari. Windows-based machines come with Internet Explorer preinstalled, and Mac-based machines come with Safari by default, but you can add other browsers on your computer. As with the operating system, if you need to know which version of a particular browser you’re using and you don’t know how to find it, ask technical support to tell you how and then document the information for later use. ✓ The names of other programs or applications that were running when the error occurred.
If you don’t know some of the answers to these questions, that’s okay. The technical support staff can help you figure it out. But, be sure to take notes and learn how to find the answers for yourself in the future. This not only helps you learn more about your computer, but also speeds up future technical support calls.
What technical support can’t do (and what you can do about it) The technical support staff are amazing people with a wealth of technical knowledge. However, it’s not uncommon for institutions to hire one technical support staff to support several thousand faculty and students. Therefore, don’t be surprised or disappointed if they have to send you elsewhere for

help. Most likely, technical staff won’t provide assistance with teaching you how to use your computer or train you on individual applications such as Microsoft Word or PowerPoint.
Your institution may offer online workshops called Webinars that teach you new skills. Webinars are workshops held online using synchronous technology that allows presenters to share content with participants in real time. If your institution offers such training sessions, take full advantage of them. These types of sessions can provide you with new skills, such as using advanced features of common applications like Microsoft Word or PowerPoint.
If your institution doesn’t offer this type of training, you can conduct a Web search for other training sources available online. For example, if you’re trying to figure out how to create a table of contents in Microsoft Word, you can go to your Internet browser and conduct a search for “Tutorial Table of Contents Microsoft Word.” Often, videos and step-by-step tutorials for learning how to use a variety of applications are available, including the following:
✓ Check out the Training home page for Microsoft at http://office. for numerous tutorials. ✓ Another site that hosts a variety of tutorials is at www.
Receiving academic support For many online students, enrolling in an online class signifies returning to school after a period of academic inactivity. In other words, as a learner, you may feel rusty. It may have been awhile since you tested your study skills. Even if you’ve been an active learner in some context, you’re probably going to feel a little awkward in the online environment at first. After all, this is new to you! What if you get into class and find that you need some additional academic support? Academic support staff can help you through any transitional difficulties you’re experiencing, including those with writing, course material, and basic student skills.
Obtaining assistance with writing If you asked experienced online students, they would probably tell you that they were surprised at first by how much writing they had to do in an online class. But when you think about it, this is how students and faculty communicate — with their fingers. Writing skills take on increased importance in the online world. A typical course involves writing responses to discussion questions, and usually a few papers on the side. We talk more about those specifics in Chapter 14.

If you find that you’re not earning the scores you want, or you receive direct feedback from the instructor about your writing skills, take action! Here are a few guidelines:
✓ Check with your instructor or academic advisor to see whether your school offers writing services. Some institutions are prepared to offer writing assistance to their virtual students. If this service is offered, you may be asked to submit your writing to a tutor via e-mail and receive written feedback about your work directly within your document. You may also be asked to meet with a tutor synchronously over the phone or via a Web-conference tool to review your work in more detail. ✓ Check your student handbook and see whether your school recommends a specific writing service or program. In some cases, schools maintain contracts with online services so they can refer students who need additional assistance. This assistance involves meeting online with a trained tutor and having that person give you specific feedback about your writing and ways in which you can make improvements. These tutors don’t correct your assignments or papers, but they do make observations about the mechanics or structure of your writing. ✓ Look for assistance online. Run a quick Internet search on “writing assistance” to find a multitude of Web sites that provide good advice on organizing your writing. Look for a site that’s specifically hosted by a college or a library. A couple excellent examples include the Guide to Grammar and Writing at and the Purdue Online Writing Lab at ✓ Find assistance through in-person services. Good writing is good writing, regardless of whether you’re online. Visit an educational services provider in your area, such as Sylvan Learning (www.sylvanlearning. com), Kumon (, or any similar business, and see what services they offer. They don’t work only with young children.
Don’t get sucked into a site that provides free research papers — this is the fastest way to end your academic career. Plagiarism is never acceptable.
Finding a tutor for your topic or basic student skills Online courses sometimes move fast, and you’re expected to keep up the pace. If you find you’re falling behind because you’re struggling to understand course material, you may decide you need a tutor. A tutor is a personalized teacher who helps you with specific subject matter. Finding a tutor for a specific subject is relatively easy because that person doesn’t have to be online. For example, if you need help in college-level math, you can probably find someone through your local newspaper or yellow pages who provides tutoring in math. On the other hand, if you find that what you need is a refresher on time management or note-taking while reading, academic tutors can provide help with these general student skills, also. Except for dealing with the online technology, reading, note-taking, and studying for exams don’t differ much between traditional and online courses.

Tutors vary in terms of their credentials, experience, and fees. How do you know what you need? Here are a couple guidelines to consider:
✓ Do you need a brush-up or major instruction? If you just need to review, a family friend with a degree in the subject area may be willing to pitch in. But if you feel you need serious instruction or more attention than a volunteer has time for, look for a tutor with teaching experience and advanced coursework in the subject matter. ✓ Are you an international student who needs help with North American writing conventions? Students who need more extensive grammar and mechanics help than subject matter knowledge may want to look for an ESL tutoring service that is familiar with strategies for teaching English as a second language. ✓ How much can you afford? A tutor associated with a corporate agency (for example, Sylvan) costs more than a former licensed schoolteacher who now works from home. In all cases, ask about credentials and experience. After all, you’re paying for this service.
In some cases, online students need someone to sit beside them to help with learning the basic tasks of understanding their computers or navigation. Most likely, you can find a computer tutor in the yellow pages, but he won’t be able to coach you through processes specific to your course management system. For that kind of help, you need to call your institution’s technical support staff. See the earlier section “What technical support can fix” for more details.
Developing your personal support system Going to school is a big commitment. It takes, time, energy, thought, and the attitude to succeed. Though you may feel this is your adventure to own, you must remember that every decision you make affects those around you. Therefore, involving your family and friends in your decision-making process helps them understand the role that they play in supporting your decision to go to school.
Because you won’t be leaving to go to a physical classroom, your family and friends may mistakenly perceive you as being available. For example, your kids may want you to go outside with them to play, or your friends may want you to host movie night. These temptations are hard to say no to. As a matter of fact, you may feel a little guilty saying no, which can cause you to fall behind in your coursework. That’s why it’s important for you to set boundaries for yourself and others.

One good way of setting boundaries is to establish specific days and times for studying. During those times, go into your study space and put a note on the door that says something like “Studying in progress. Please do not interrupt.” If you have young children, make time to explain your situation in terms they understand, and let them help make the “Do Not Disturb!” sign. This may give them a feeling of ownership and pride in helping you achieve your academic goals. When they feel good about helping you, you feel less guilty for soliciting their help.
The most valuable thing that family and friends can do to help you succeed is to respect your time and space when studying. Some beneficial ways they can do this include babysitting the kids, refraining from temptations that take you away from studying, and making dinner on study nights. It’s also nice if your supporters can be flexible during times when your workload increases.
Supporters can also help you academically. By reading rough drafts and providing you with constructive feedback, supporters help you identify areas of your work that need polishing before you turn it in. To help them provide constructive feedback, provide the assignment’s description so they know what the instructor expects. You can also ask your supporters open-ended questions after they review your assignment to see whether or not they’re able to answer the questions in a manner that reflects what you are trying to convey in the assignment.

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