Self pacing is not a skill I have in abundance
January 9, 2013 8:04 PM   Subscribe

Any advice for surviving a pair of online classes?

This semester I'm taking two classes online (English and Culinary Management) to go along with two culinary classes in the kitchen.

I've tried to do online classes before and things didn't turn out too well. One I got a D in, the other I had to drop because I had no hope of passing. Excuses about the timing being bad and life getting in the way I've got plenty of for those.

So why am I doing it to myself again? Because I had to either a schedule where I couldn't work lunch or dinner during the week or couldn't work a pair of days but all other days were totally open. When the class lists came out the only option I had was no lunch during the week.

So anyway, I've done "online" classes before. But they were all regular go to class kind of classes except we took the tests online. Way more structured and I couldn't give myself a sense of being able to do things later.

Some things I'm doing differently this time:

1 - I have management with a chef I had last semester and that I'll be in the production kitchen with 2 or 3 days a week. If I don't do something he will give me shit for it.

2 - As far as work knows I have class M-F during the lunch shifts. In reality I have Fridays open but I'm planning on using the time before work to get school stuff done.

Mot importantly, 3 - My wife will give me so much Hell if I screw around that I don't even want to think about it right now. She's already had to deal with too many times where we'd get back from being out the day something was due and I'd have to rush to get some stupid work done before the deadline.

So for those of you who have done online classes or other things where you're given a deadline but nobody's really watching to make sure you're doing anything, how did you make sure you got everything done? How did you fight off that desire to watch another episode of Star Trek instead of doing the definitions? Since I'll be in the apartment by myself during about 98% of the time I'll be able to work, how can I trick myself into actually doing the work?

I do have an Android phone to help out if you know know of anyway to utilize that.
posted by theichibun to Education (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Force yourself to be accountable. Your wife is watching? Then give her your "homework" assignments. Tell her what you studied today, write a report (a paragraph or something) that you turn in to her, if she's willing.

If that's something she doesn't want to do, then find a friend or make one up in your head and give yourself the assignment to turn something in each day.
posted by xingcat at 8:22 PM on January 9, 2013

The first fully-online class I took, I blew off for way too long (I managed a D doing all the work in one night, and that low only because of missed concert reports). It didn't help that I had a full load of other, structured, in-person classes.

The next semester, when I took classes, half of them were online. I developed a routine for myself: in the morning, head straight to Starbucks. Get a large iced latte and maybe a muffin. Sit in my car, listen to the classical radio station at a very low volume, and read the assigned parts of the textbooks. If I had time, I'd write out outlines for upcoming assignments. Maybe even take along my laptop to write out the assignments on.

Granted, I didn't have many other responsibilities at the time - no job, no real social obligations, and on-campus classes were only two days a week, in the afternoon/evening. And I tend to retain information well when I read it in the right environment, with my full attention on it. If you need to take notes to retain information, you might need a more desk-like environment.
posted by WasabiFlux at 8:29 PM on January 9, 2013

From the pov of someone who has taught online, basically, you have to be as organized as for a f2f class. Class will move pretty quickly once it starts.

- Read the syllabus. Understand what the course is about. Check the calendar for deadlines. Add them to your calendar.

- Get hold of and read the readings ahead of time. Making notes is useful.

- Understand what assignments are due when, and what they consist of.

- Keep up to speed with the class. If you miss out on early stuff, you may find it harder to keep up with later weeks.

- Do not do this on-the-go, on mobile devices, etc. Get a desk, or a table in a coffee shop, or something where you are not multi-tasking.

- Schedule a regular chunk (say 10-12 hours) into your schedule each week for each class - times when you know you can devote yourself to the work.

A lot of colleges sell online classes as a sort of "do a degree in your pajamas" experience, along with related stock photos of happy students. Nothing could be further from the truth. It takes a lot of effort!

Good luck!
posted by carter at 9:09 PM on January 9, 2013

I just finished two eight-week terms of entirely online college classes -- four courses/12 credits in all, including English -- while working full-time days (and I'd do it again if my employer hadn't pulled my tuition reimbursement). I'd guess that I spent between 20-30 hours every week on school in addition to 40-50 hours at work. It was my first and only experience with secondary education, and I was terrified out of my mind that I'd fail or slack off, but I managed to snag a solid 4.0 just by staying meticulously organized.

Some things that helped:
* Getting a super-sweet programmable coffee maker from Goodwill and setting it to start brewing at an ungodly early hour, so I would be able to take a look at and/or edit the previous night's homework with fresh eyes before I went to work.

* Whipping up a big batch of easily reheated food -- chili, lentil soup, beans and rice, that kind of stuff -- immediately after finishing my last assignment for the week. That way, for the next week, I could slam a pot on the stove and start shoving readily available nutrients into my gaping maw within 10 minutes of getting home from work-work, thereby allowing me to dive quickly and fairly painlessly into school-work.

* Taking notes! Physical pen and paper notes, with highlighters, flags, the whole nine. I would have perished without Post-Its. Index cards, too. You can make yourself a little inbox (gotta do!) and an outbox (done!).

* Breaking my tasks into pleasantly bite-sized pieces so the weight of what I had to get done wouldn't feel too overwhelming.
Before my classes officially began, I had time to read each syllabus and make a list of all of the research, reading, and assignments that would be due each week. I emailed the teachers and asked if there were any books or websites that would be helpful for me to review in advance of the class. Once it actually started, I made a rough sketch of what I needed to accomplish in each class every day in order to have everything done by the end of the week -- Monday, read English chapter 1 and take notes, art history assignment questions 1-3; Tuesday, review English notes, post to both discussion boards, art history assignment questions 4-6, etc. -- in order to spread the work out evenly throughout the week. This helped me feel confident that I would never be freaking out and scrambling to finish on Sunday at 11:59 PM (our assignments were due Sundays at midnight), which made me much less anxious about slacking or under-performing overall. Crossing off tasks as I finished them was awesome, especially when I was really cruising and could start work scheduled for later in the week a day or two early.

* Giving myself a night off to crash out on the couch watching bad TV if I knew I absolutely, positively needed it.

* Learning the difference between verifiable burnout (which necessitates the aforementioned night off) and standard issue whinging/procrastination (which does not).

* LeechBlock, always. If you're feeling especially tempted to lapse into a stint of glazed-eye media consumption, ask your cable company to pause your subscription for a spell, have your wife remove and hide the TV remote batteries, and loan any/all gaming system(s) to a friend for the duration.

* More than anything else, I held myself accountable without fail and without mercy. No excuses, no doubts, no questions -- just get it done.

You can do it!
posted by divined by radio at 9:21 PM on January 9, 2013

Well, I'm a little Type A about this kind of stuff, but I managed to pull straight A's while taking 6 online classes in one summer by doing this:

In a spreadsheet, copy & paste every assignment from the syllabus (readings, projects/papers/any other assorted items to be turned in, exams, miscellaneous deadlines like last day to drop/withdraw). I also listed every due date. Then I sorted the list so that every single thing I needed to get done for the entire semester was in chronological order.

Like a dweeb, I also highlighted assignments for each class in a different color. No need for you to get so dweeby if you don't want to.

I filtered the list so that I was only looking at the next two weeks of assignments at one time, and in a final column, I tentatively scheduled each line for some day in the next two weeks. I typically only really did one, maaaybe two things per day, and I just scheduled a particular time of day (for me it was right after work) when I did the scheduled thing; I simply did not watch TV or start clicking web links until I got that one thing done -- it wasn't too hard, because I knew I only had to finish that one thing.

I don't know if you will have firm due dates on everything, but if not, you could pretty easily set your own by scheduling things evenly across the weeks, or use your judgment about how long you think different tasks will take you.

This method probably took me 2-3 hours to set up, but the advantages were: everything is right there in front of you, all together, and planned in advance; I never got overwhelmed by how MUCH there was to do, because I was only looking at a brief window of time; I got in the habit of doing an hour or two of work regularly (daily for me); and it got me methodically thinking about and working on the next thing that needed to be done, because I could see things gradually moving up the list.
posted by emumimic at 9:33 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I took a few online classes during my undergrad and they did not go well for me because I did not do the following:

- I did not keep up to date with homework and readings regularly.
- I did not keep up to date on DATES for assignments and such.
- I would often forget to even log in to the online site because it wasn't a habit for me.

Ways that you can get past those obstacles:

1) Either in a spreadsheet or calendar, plug in every date for every class that is important. If in a calendar, make sure you set reminders 2-3 days out, at least.

2) Sit down at the start of each week and spend some time with the assignments so you know roughly how much time you'll need for each. Then add another hour or two to your estimate. Then plan out when you'll work on that during the week, splitting it up if you need to.

3) Make it a habit to log in daily to the course websites, particularly if there's a news page, so that you're already in the habit of logging in, but also so that you can see early on if any dates are set to change.

Good luck. :)
posted by juliebug at 9:59 PM on January 9, 2013

carter: A lot of colleges sell online classes as a sort of "do a degree in your pajamas" experience, along with related stock photos of happy students. Nothing could be further from the truth. It takes a lot of effort!

I couldn't agree more. I've said it before on Metafilter: online courses take as much or more work than face-to-face courses. Personally, I think students need to come already equipped with excellent study and time management skills in order to succeed. So, make sure you've got those things under control at the beginning of the course.

I find one of the main issues my face-to-face English lit/composition students have is seriously underestimating the amount of time it will take to do a writing assignment properly. When you are planning out your calendar of assignments, ask yourself: what do I need to get done beforehand in order to have that essay written?

If it's a literature paper, you need to a) finish reading the piece of literature b) choose/narrow a topic d) generate the outline e) take notes, e) write a draft and f) revise it.

If it's a research paper, you need to factor in a) finding articles, b) reading the articles, c) taking notes, d) outlining, and THEN e) drafting and f) revising the paper.

Sit down and come up with a realistic estimate (hint: it's longer than you think) of how long it'll take you to do all of that for each assignment.

Good luck!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:00 PM on January 9, 2013

I just finished my MLIS online (thank you Rutgers!). In undergrad I was a terrible procrastinator, so time management does not come easily to me. I have a full-time job, and kid, and a husband who gets home from work around 6-7. So what I did was:

- prep dinner in advance/on weekends as much as possible

- clean up dinner prep dishes before we ate

- the second dinner was over, I would head upstairs to work for at least an hour, or as long as I needed to

- read the entire syllabus at the start of the semester, and refer back to it often

- wrote down all due dates on a calendar

- learned to say "no, I can't go out/come to your party/have people over". I took a lot of shit about it, and I hate missing parties, but it was the only way.

Because my husband picked up a lot of my slack - if I had a paper due on Monday I was pretty much unavailable the entire weekend - I owed it to him as well as to myself to do well.

And now I'm done! Now if I could only apply the same diligence to updating my resume...

Good luck!
posted by lyssabee at 6:28 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

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