1. Education

What Is an Online Graduate Class Like?

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Question: What Is an Online Graduate Class Like?
Evolving web technology has made it possible to take a class or even earn a degree from a major university without ever sitting in a classroom. Some students take online courses as part of traditional degree programs. For example, I teach several of my undergraduate courses as both traditional on-ground classes and online classes. Online classes hold some similarities with traditional on-ground courses, but there are also many differences.
Answer: Depending upon the school, program, and instructor you choose, your online class may entail synchronous asynchronous elements. Synchronous elements require that all students log in at the same time. An instructor might provide a live lecture using a web cam or might hold a chat session for the entire class, for example. Asynchronous elements do not require that you log in at the same time as other students or your instructor. You might be asked to post to bulletin boards, submit essays and other assignments, or participate with other class members on a group assignment.

Communication with the Instructor occurs through:

  • E-mail
  • Bulletin boards
  • Chat rooms
  • Instant message
  • Video conference (like Skype)
  • Telephone (sometimes)

Lectures are taught through:

  • Web conferences
  • Typed lectures
  • Tele-conferences
  • Bulletin boards
  • Text chat
  • Streaming audio
  • Recorded lectures

Course participation and assignments include:

  • Discussion board posts
  • Essay assignments
  • Constructing web pages
  • Creating blogs
  • Collaborating on wiki pages
  • Tests (conducted online)

What you need:

  • Computer capable of streaming video and multitasking
  • Printer
  • High speed internet (no dial up!)
  • Basic computer skills: Internet surf, downloading media, search, email
  • Self-discipline and motivation
  • Regular blocks of time

Most online universities offer demonstrations for online courses on their web sites, which allows you to preview the virtual learning experience beforehand. An orientation class may be required by some schools, in which you will meet the instructors, staff, and other students. You will also learn about the technology used, available tools that are needed to get started, and resources available to online students, such as library facilities. Many online degree programs have residencies that require that students come to campus for one or more days every year.

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