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Using ten days to prepare for an online course, then acing it?
January 24, 2013 11:08 PM   Subscribe

I’m about to start a six-month-long online course that I'd like to do really well on. The next ten days are very quiet at work. How can I use this time to help myself prepare, given that I’ll need to be in the office for part of each of the ten days...and then keep up with the course while going back to full-time teaching?

After the ten days are up, it’s back to the normal 35-40 hours of planning/teaching/grading/meetings/etc. a week, on top of the 15-20 hours for the course a week. But I really do have no other significant responsibilities for the next ten days, except to prepare for the course and organize myself, and I’m sort of at a loss over how to best do this. I do need to come into the office for at least a few hours a day.

Here's what I've thought about so far. I'd love to hear what worked for you!

- Do I need to train up to use Moodle, the course platform? I don't want to spend an hour messing around the day the first assignment is due trying to find a "submit" button or something.

- I can do some pre-reading from the reading list, but I don't have a syllabus/list of assignments yet. How can I make this time effective?

- I’m doing the dry-erase-marker wall calendar thing to organize everything at home.

- Batch-cooking and freezer meals?

- Should I back up my coursework on Dropbox/online somewhere, or pick up an external hard drive?

- Put bills/transit pass onto auto-pay/direct debit; make a little weekly housework schedule to follow.

- The course will take up every spare moment of my vacation time for 2013, but I'll still have normal weekends and public holidays. How can I best maintain my sanity/balance and thrive from the challenge, rather than be exhausted by it?

Big unanswerables until we start: how responsive the course coordinators are, how astute my fellow students (only 11 other participants!) will be, how to make asynchronous conversations work well. Any advice on these (or other!) during-the-actual-course matters would be great as well.

Thanks in advance!
posted by mdonley to Education (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh, in case it wasn't clear - work is totally supportive of me doing the course and is being as accommodating as they can be.
posted by mdonley at 11:09 PM on January 24, 2013


moodle isnt difficult, but ask your fellow students for help if stuck...sometimes you stare and stare at it but cant see what's right in front of your nose

aynchronous conversations work well if you put a little thought into your responses: ask yourself how clear you have made what you are trying to say. especially with help desk type questions, write a kind of flowchart of all the steps you have taken and where you are stuck

just curious- 15-20 hrs per week for a course sounds like a lot...?

my tips: communicate! contribute often to the online forum, you might be surprised by the results

good luck with your course co-ordinator
posted by sparkle55 at 12:00 AM on January 25, 2013


I would concentrate on the cooking/cleaning/bill paying. When I worked and took classes, that was always the stuff that fell by the wayside. We would go out to eat to often because I didn't feel like cooking, I would eat really badly for a few months, gain weight, etc.

So yes, cook meals ahead and freeze. Collect some good easy crockpot recipes. Stock your pantry with stuff to make quick meals out of. Make a 14 day menu plan that you can use over and over for the next few months.

If you have Peapod in your area, register with their website and set up a list that has ingredients for a week or two's worth of groceries. That way if you're busy or tired, 10 minutes on Peapod will get your groceries bought and delivered.

By all means put your bills on auto-pay if you're inclined to do so. It's a great timesaver and ensures that none of your regular bills gets lost in the shuffle.

Look into Flylady for some easy housework routines.

Good luck with your course!
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:42 AM on January 25, 2013


If you know who the instructor is, perhaps you could email them and ask if they can let you know what texts will be used so you can get a jump on the reading? The syllabus may not be complete, but they should have a good idea of what sources they'll be using.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 5:41 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Should I back up my coursework on Dropbox/online somewhere, or pick up an external hard drive?

Honestly, why not do both? Dropbox is a great resource; Google Drive should be something that you are familiar with (it's useful for projects); external hard drives are just plain good sense.

Moodle is fairly simple but the course will have it personalized anyway, so be aware that if you're looking at a sandbox course designed by another school/program, it won't be quite the same. I wouldn't worry about it.

Has it been a while since your last academic class as a student? I might go over some guides on citations, note-taking, studying, etc. I know you're a teacher, but I was surprised at how dusty some of my abilities were when I took a college class a year after grad school. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out note-taking strategies, depending on the subject matter, so you may want to try to plot more of that out beforehand. Do you have a file system set up? I always like having copies of the syllabus and course materials in a chronological order, along with any typed notes, etc. If you handwrite notes, you may want to get a scanner to make sure you have access to them-- I wish I could have done this in grad school!
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:45 AM on January 25, 2013


Moodle is very easy and intuitive. I'd spend some time logging in and poking around, but don't worry, all buttons are pretty easy to find. I've definitely taken some accounting courses that take 15-20/week but I doubt this is one of them, you can probably get by with an hour of study time per day.

Definitely food is the biggest time waster on a daily basis, as well as housework. Weekends are great to catch up on bulk chores/prep for the week.

The biggest pitfall to online learning is not having a set time to study set in concrete. Whether you do it in the morning, fresh - highly recommended - or during lunch, or after work, just like gym time it must be inviolate and immutable. Then it's just easy - an hour or so per day and the work is suddenly done.

Many online schools unlock the electronic course materials early, as soon as you pay, and I'd use those ten days to read over the materials and get cracking on the course work. I bet you could do a quarter or half of it in the ten empty days, easy.
posted by tatiana131 at 11:53 AM on January 25, 2013


If you are going to do freezer meals and once-a-week cooking, I recommend using disposable plates/cups/forks for your weekday meals. Then you only do dishes on the cooking day and no more dishes the rest of the week. If it makes you sad from an environmental point of view, vow to make a donation to a worthy org and promise to never use paper/plastic for the time AFTER your course is done.
posted by CathyG at 1:54 PM on January 25, 2013


* When we do our once-a-week cooking, we leave it all in the big cooking pots in the fridge, and serve up a portion each day until it's gone. If you do freezer meals in individual dishes, you might still have to wash those.
posted by CathyG at 1:56 PM on January 25, 2013


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