The three habits of successful learners
We recommend the following three study habits that will maximize your chances for success in your online class:
- Devote sufficient time and effort. Time-on-task is a necessary--if insufficient--condition for learning (Gibbs 1999; Chickering and Gamson 1987; Bransford et al. 2000). We recommend that you plan out several blocks of time each week to study the initial reading content, to work on project assignments, and to read and contribute to discussions. Don't wait for that last day to work on the entire lesson! Break it up into workable chunks.
- Communicate effectively. Really, we live off of good communications! Post succinct, specific questions and comments with informative subject lines. Make the effort to engage with your classroom community as well as your instructor. So whenever appropriate, share your questions and comments with the entire class (through the Canvas Forums) rather than using private e-mail. In turn, please take time to read others’ questions and comments and participate with replies. This is so crucial as a developing solar professional, we need strong communication skills. Compose project reports with the same care and skill that you’d hope your instructor or employer would devote to a letter of recommendation on your behalf. Be civil and respectful. If frustrated or angry, weigh your words carefully or wait until the next day to post a message if the timeline allows.
- Approach learning reflectively. Be aware of your strengths and weakness as a learner. Students who develop strong “metacognitive” skills tend to be the most effective learners. Also, those who are able to relate what they learned to situations outside the classroom (real or virtual) are most likely to retain that knowledge (Bransford, J.D. et al. 2000).
One of the best practices you can employ as a student is that of good time management. For many of you, you're just now returning to school after some time away from the classroom. Chances are also good that life is busier and more complicated now than the last time you were a student - with family and work commitments competing for your time. As you embark on your journey through the RESS degree program or a Solar Certificate, we want to make sure we're helping to prepare you for the greatest success possible, and time management skills are a great place to start!
This is a three credit course, and as a general rule, you can expect that three credit courses will call for an average of approximately 9-12 hours of commitment each week. This time commitment will include reading and written assignments, exams, quizzes, reviewing course content on the web (like this site!), and any discussion activities or other participation requirements.
Some Lessons may hold distinctly unfamilar content for you, or will just be challenging to internalize because we are training you in new ways to think about a common solar problem. Those lessons may require more time than the average requirement. Whenever possible, I have tried to place warnings at the beginning of lessons that certain content arcs will likely be intense (like "Math Warning!"). So, when planning your schedule each semester, keep this metric in mind so that you're not overloading yourself.
Online classes are great, especially if you're also working and managing family commitments, because they afford you the flexibility to complete the work on your own time. However, that flexibility can also be a bit of a curse! With no requirement to show up for class at a specified time each week, it can be challenging to make yourself carve out specific time to devote specifically to your coursework. Suddenly, you find yourself frantically trying to complete a week's worth of work late at night as the clock races toward the deadline. We'd like to help you avoid those last minute crunches!
Managing your time in an online learning environment:
- Know your time limitations and plan accordingly when scheduling your classes. You bet, we understand that you're eager to complete your degree and have it behind you as you embark on a new career or transition to a new position in your current career. Keep in mind that you want to get a worthy experience out of the courses you're taking and paying for, and you want to be prepared for whatever job you take when you graduate. That means alloting some good time every week to participate and really dig in to the class.
- Know your other limitations as well. It's not enough to devote your time to complete the work for the class, you also need to put in your focus and brain power. Consider, if you work in a particularly intellectually challenging job, where coming home in the evening means that you might not be mentally fresh enough to handle two 3-cr graduate courses in a semester and still have the presence of mind to help your kids with their homework, then don't tempt fate - schedule accordingly! Your academic adviser will be happy to help you plan for your RESS degree or Solar certificate requirements in a way that won't also overextend your ability to apply yourself in this course while living your very important life right at home.
- Set realistic expectations of yourself--and of your instructors. Your instructors recognize and appreciate that you're doing this work likely at odd hours throughout the week and may have limited pockets of time to complete assignments. We will do our best to respond to inquiries quickly. But, nobody is completely tethered to their e-mail, so it's a good idea even if you don't have the time to work on an assignment near the beginning of a week, that you at least look it over and anticipate any questions you might have as you begin the material.
As an example: I have a great family here, with little kids of my own. So that means I need to delegate time to my family as well. So I will answer questions posted up until NOON on the day before a Lesson Activity (or similar deadline) is due. There will be no guarantees that anything posted later than noon will be addressed, and the answer may take a few hours if the question is posted over the weekend. Likely, I will answer a pre-noon question by that evening unless I am otherwise incapacitated (vomitting kids, WiFi outage, severe storm, etc.).
- Give yourself (and your family) a schedule. Let's say you decide to take two 3-credit classes next semester in addition to working full time and having family obligations. Pick a time that you can devote to your coursework and try to stick with it. Maybe it's Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays after your kids are in bed, from 8-11 pm, and then finish up remaining commitments on the weekend. This will help you set expectations with your family about the time you'll need to work on your classes. And remember to align those times with our class deadlines for each lesson, and my own noon posting limits.
- The last minute can be pretty short. We've seen this happen multiple times in many different classes. Students wait until the very last second to turn something in before the deadline. I strongly discourage you from racing the clock to submit an assignment or exam via Canvas. You're almost certainly guaranteeing that your computer will freeze, your Internet connection will fizzle, or that some other technological glitch will prevent you from submitting on time. You may find your instructors rather unforgiving and unwilling to waive point deductions for assignments that are submitted late - even if only by a few minutes. If it's due Sunday night at 11:55 pm, give yourself at least an hour's wiggle room, if not more, to ensure that your assignment reaches its destination before the deadline.
- Seeing is believing. The Canvas Calendar has some nice features, and there is a way to view all the due dates for all of your courses on one calendar. This will alert you early on to any bottlenecks you might face with multiple assignments in multiple classes being due near each other.
- Ask for help! If you have a question about an assignment, don't wait until the night it is due. Email the instructor immediately! If you find yourself becoming overwhelmed or falling behind - don't just slip into the abyss and ignore deadlines. Communicate with your instructor(s) and talk to your advisor to find out what you can do to stay on top of your work. We're all here to help you succeed, but we can only help when we know there's a problem!
Again, I will answer questions posted up until NOON on the day before a Lesson Activity (or similar deadline) is due. There will be no guarantees that anything posted later than noon will be addressed, and the answer may take a few hours if the question is posted over the weekend. Likely, I will answer a pre-noon question by that evening unless I am otherwise incapacitated (vomitting kids, WiFi outage, severe storm, etc.).
Bransford, J. D. et al. (Eds.) (2000) How People Learn: Brain, Mind, and Experience. Washington, DC: National Research Council.
Chickering, A. W., and Gamson, Z. F. (1987) Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. AAHE Bulletin, 39(7) 3-7.
Gibbs, G. (1999) Planning Your Students’ Learning Activities. In McKeachie, W.J. (Ed.) McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, 10th Ed. Pp. 20-33. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Palloff, R. M. and Pratt, K. (2001) Lessons from the Cyberspace Classroom: The Realities of Online Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Swan, K. et al. (2000) Course Design Factors Influencing the Success of Online Learning. Proceedings, WebNet 2000 World Conference on the WWW and Internet. San Antonio TX, October 30-November 4.