Guest article written by: Brian Warnecke
Faculty Member, Electrical Engineering at American Public University
One of the common questions that I often get from students as well as colleagues is “What do I need to do in order to be successful in an online technical program?” I have been teaching in online engineering and technology programs for almost a decade and I have completed a math degree online, so I have a few best practices that can be applied to this type of question.
In any degree program, online or in-seat, there are multiple opportunities where you can get discouraged and walk away. You have to be willing to work through issues and to keep coming back. In a face to face class, you will have more direct communication and assistance available in every class. In an online class, you need to be more independent and seek out solutions.
Reserve Your Space and Time
Have a dedicated time and space for your studying, and be sure to communicate that with those around you. One mistake that I made early when I was enrolled in an online class was allowing co-workers to interrupt my synchronous class time. I thought it would only take a few minutes and I could get right back. One interruption becomes another and another…For my own purposes as an online instructor, I have part of my home office reserved for work and everyone knows the times that I am working each week. You should plan on about 9 hours each week for each course on study time.
Get Started Early
If you wait until the end of the week to work on your assignments, problems become very frustrating. Most of your instructors are not always immediately available at 11:50 PM on Sunday night to take your questions. Starting earlier in the week will make the process much easier and much less frustrating for you. When a software program isn’t working and you have five days until the assignment is due, it is much less stressful to troubleshoot the issue.
Get to Know Your Classmates
Most classes will typically have an introduction forum at the start of the class. Read through those posts and look for things that you have in common with your classmates. Reply back more than the minimum amount of times and start building those relationships. Those relationships will be important as you work through the class and even head out in to your career. That forum is a great networking opportunity. As a student, I was always more likely to reply back to other students later in the term and provide assistance if I knew something about that person. Those relationships do matter.
After the initial week, the forum posts will become more technical in nature. As that happens, be sure to contribute your own experiences to the discussion to keep those relationships going.
Utilize Your Classmates (and Make Yourself Available)
In almost any class, there is an enormous amount of collective knowledge in the classroom. Be careful to remain within the academic integrity guidelines of the class. But use the forums and email to ask questions to your classmates. Remember to also contribute back when you can as that will promote an environment of teamwork and will identify you as a knowledgeable and helpful professional.
Hopefully those tips give you something to think about as you work through your online courses. Best wishes for success in your classes, your degree program, and your career.
About the Author
Brian Warnecke was awarded a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Wright State University in Dayton, OH. He received a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Wright State University and a Master’s degree in Math Education from Western Governors University in Salt Lake City, UT.
With industry experience in the semiconductor industry, Mr. Warnecke is an adjunct faculty member in mathematics and electrical engineering. Mr. Warnecke is also working towards completing additional mathematics and statistics course work at the University of West Florida.