Building an Offline Office for Your Online Classes

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March 4th, 2011

Enrollment at online universities is growing fast, and thousands of Americans are launching their academic careers from the comfort of their own homes. Students can watch video lectures streamed over their laptops, take tests on secure web sites, turn in homework over email and attend social media study groups. Despite the ease of attending classes on their own schedules, many online students face a challenge when they try to pick a location for their home classroom. Working from home, people can be easily distracted by chores, pets, family and entertainment. Fortunately, successful students and professors are glad to share their tested secrets for building the best home office. Here are some of their tips.

  • Unplug the distractions. Most people study best when they avoid interruptions, so the best virtual classrooms do not include blaring televisions or ringing phones. To avoid these pitfalls, some students choose their bedrooms while others leave the house entirely and settle in a public library or local coffee shop. For students who study at home, the crucial step is to dedicate the work space entirely to schoolwork, says Lisa Gillis, the author of “Virtual Schooling: A Guide to Optimizing Your Child’s Education.” “The area could be as elaborate as an entire room transformed into a classroom, or a small desk space in an office,” Gillis said in a release. “Occasionally, students like to take a break and sit on the couch with their laptops.”
  • Stay organized. Computers are wonderful when they work, but technology problems can wipe out hours of productive study when an assignment gets lost in e-mail or a computer crash deletes a term paper. Professors at Chabot College in Hayward, California, advise their online students to print out paper copies of each syllabus and assignment calendar, making multiple copies if they study in several different places. Another good habit is to save copies of class notes and homework tasks in a single folder on the PC screen, so it’s easy to send them again if they get lost in a weak wireless connection. Some students even back up this data on a disc or flash drive.
  • Learn from your classmates. Online students may sit alone in a home office, but they do not need to face their academic challenges alone. The best students share ideas and comments with their classmates throughout the semester, according to teachers at West Virginia University at Parkersburg. By using e-mail or instant messaging, they can ask quick questions and help tutor friends when they know the answers. Students also benefit when they develop a support network of friends and family who respect their need for quiet computer time even when it coincides with a weekend party or an outing with friends.
  • Take advantage of the technology. The most successful students tap the unique benefits of online coursework, from posting comments on group study pages to getting instant feedback from professors. Dedicated students make sure they log on to their course homepage every day, to avoid falling behind on the flood of information. Other students take advantage of the anonymity of virtual classrooms, taking their time to post answers to group discussions without being distracted by classmates’ reactions.

In the end, online students must sort through all the advice and pick the home study habits that work best for them. The best approach is simply the one that allows them to focus on their studies and to finish them fast. Maybe they’ll even have time to fit in a workout or to catch their favorite TV show to relax at the end of a day.

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