Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The "Save Yourself the Heartache" Guide to Blended-Learning

Tips for Students Starting an Online or Blended-Learning Program

By Varun Khanna

Less than a decade ago, a student could walk into her college class and expect the professor to hand out a printed syllabus and spend the entire first class going over a laundry list of textbook requirements, expectations, do's and don'ts, important dates, ice breaker activities, and end the class by answering student questions.

Those days are almost a thing of the past.

With technology life cycles getting shorter and shorter, academia much like any other industry is rapidly responding and adapting to the needs of the marketplace. Technology is one of the main drivers of productivity. Deploying the right technology, in and out of the classroom, can help students convert knowledge to real world intelligence.

Blended-learning is one example of how technology is forcing both teachers and students to change their habits in order to harness the maximum benefit out of this new relationship.

It is important to note that a lot of professors will front-load a blended-learning class. This means that before you get to that first face-to-face class, which could very well be the fourth week of the semester, you may already have had three online sessions that include reading assigned material, writing a blog, and turning in an assignment online via http://courses.pepperdine.edu also known as Sakai.

In this blog I want to focus on the student asking herself some important questions prior to an online or blended-learning class.

Do I know my technology tools?
Prior to commencing an online course or a blended-learning program get to know the learning tools endorsed by Pepperdine University. Send your professors an email prior to the semester commencement and request the names of the online tools they intend to use. Examples: Courses (powered by Sakai) may include Forums, Drop Box, Assignments, Blogs etc. Other examples would be Bb Collaborate, Google Hangouts, Google Drive etc.

Do I know my audience?
Get to know your professor and fellow-students. Look out for the first announcement email from your professor. It may include email addresses of your peers. Use http://linkedIn.com or other professional social media websites as a source to find out more about your classmate’s professional affiliations. Visit the Pepperdine website to find out more about your professor.

Is my computer in good health?
It's critical that your computer is working well. The last thing you want is the hardware on your computer to fail during an online test or a virus to wipe out your hard drive. You may visit your local computer repair store or schedule an appointment with Pepperdine University’s Technology Support department for
a health check.

Do I have the latest software updates?
You are attempting a Bb Collaborate session and find the clock clicking as the class charges forward because you don’t have the latest Java update. Regularly visit http://browsercheck.pepperdine.edu and the system will perform an automatic scan to see if you have the latest updates. Not only will the system know whether you are behind on the latest update but, will display a button so you can Fix It.

Is my internet connection fast enough?
You are at your home office attending a Pepperdine online class. The kids are in the their respective rooms. One is watching Netflix on the iPad and the other is watching HBOGo on Apple TV, while your spouse is in the living room busy watching a YouTube channel on how to buy penny stocks. Use http://speedtest.net to test your internet connectivity speed. Talking to your family about limiting use of the internet during your online class time may prove beneficial.

Did I just blow my budget?
Instead of buying books, many students save money by renting expensive text books from online sites like http://chegg.com or http://bookrenter.com or http://campusbookrentals.com. If you wish to go green use digital downloads. However, professors may also want you to also download case study papers. You should always first check with Pepperdine Libraries. The university subscribes to many databases for articles, research materials, and other sources. Don't pay for something when it's free for you as a student! Also, your professor may recommend that you use an outside resource like http://study.net where you can purchase an entire bundle of required case studies or published papers. Digital download signatures on your download may include your IP address and name (as it appears on your credit card) to validate a purchase. Bundle digital download sites like http://study.net allow the professor to see which student has bought the case study articles as well as ensure publishers that their company and writers get paid for their intellectual property. A final appeal, though -- check with the library!

Communication is hard. Online communication is even harder. It makes even more room for misinterpretation. Just because you are at home taking an online class does not mean you are not "in" class. Be mindful of your presentation online. Pay attention to your language and grammar (e.g. CAPS may be interpreted as shouting). Also, be sure to respond in a timely or courteous manner.  These behaviors may not only affect your grade but your professional relationship with your peers.

Do my online assignments come with due dates?
Just like any offline assignment has a due date, an online assignment comes with an expiration date, too. Be fastidious about sharing due dates with your cohort or peers. Sync your calendar with your phone and don’t forget to set up several alerts for every assignment.

How can I work in groups for an online class?
There are free, easy-to-use, intuitive, online video tools like Google Hangouts that allow you to share Google Drive (Google docs, spreadsheet, presentation etc), video and audio for virtually "face-to-face" meetings.  Many tools offer the ability to share your computer screen or other features.

How do I back up my files?
You can purchase a flash drive, an external hard drive or subscribe to an online back up service like http://carbonite.com which will auto backup your files to the cloud. Another option would be to use Google Drive that offers Pepperdine Google Apps users up to 30 GB of free online storage. Use http://google.pepperdine.edu to sign up for free. Whatever tool you choose, it's critical to back up your documents. After spending hours writing a research paper, you don't want a hardware problem or a coffee spill to force you to write it again from memory! Frequent backups are a necessity for all students.

We hope that these questions will help you prepare and succeed in your online or blended/hybrid program.