How to Ensure You’re Prepared for Your First Online Course

Posted Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Did you choose your college?
That was a no-brainer.

Did you apply for admission?
Way ahead of you.

Did you enroll?
Easy peasy.

Did you register for your courses?
Ready to go, go, go!

Did you prepare for your first online course?
Wait – that’s a thing???

It is natural to be unsure about your first online course or unfamiliar with the expectations required of you. If you’ve only taken traditional classes in the past, the transformation to an online course can be challenging. While they are ideal interactive environments to learn if you are constrained by time and place, online courses do require time, effort and preparation to succeed.

Designed on a week-by-week timeline and guided by a detailed schedule, the number of assignments can vary depending on the course. Some may have a few long assignments while others have several short assignments. There may be textbooks and/or digital materials to read, videos to watch, as well as final projects, examinations and class discussions – all of which impact your final grade. While flexible schedules allow you to complete course work at your own pace, you can fall behind without strong time management and organizational skills. But, if you are realistic and self-disciplined, you can maximize the full learning potential of these vibrant and engaging classes, on your own terms. You can help ensure that your first online class will be a success by following these preparation tips:

Check your system requirements.
Familiarize yourself with all the technical components and software required in your course. Review your computer’s capabilities to guarantee that you will be able to access the required programs and documents without issue. This may include an updated Internet browser, proper document imaging programs, updated email information, an easily accessible Internet connection, and a webcam, microphone, or headset, if needed. Have a plan to address any technical difficulties should they arise so that you don’t fall behind in your courses.

Review the site and syllabus.
Much of the course content will be posted within a few days before an online course begins, or, if you are a Thomas Edison State College student, preview the course on the College’s website via the “Preview the Online Syllabus” link at the bottom of the course description’s page. This preview includes a view of the syllabus (which may be updated or revised when the actual online course begins), including course objectives and assignments, and shows you what books and other course materials are required.

As you review these materials, decide how you want to organize them. Create a binder or folder to hold course papers, the syllabus, notes, etc. for easy access when you need them.

Understand the course structure.
Acquaint yourself with the mentor’s expectations and review the submission schedule to get an idea of the reading and writing assignments and activities required of you to complete the course. Notate in a calendar all term due dates so you will know ahead of time if work or family commitments will impact the completion of your course work so you can adjust your schedule as necessary.

As most courses require textbooks or other course materials, purchase these items in advance so you do not miss any key readings or discussions.

Schedule your “class time.”
Designate a place in your home for your course work and materials, and make sure the environment will let you concentrate and focus. Map out a specific block of time, perhaps an hour before the kids wake up or an hour after dinner, to stay on track of your assignments. A common mistake students make in online courses is the perception that work can be done “anytime,” so they tend to not reserve any time at all. You may want to engage in informal discussions with classmates, which can provide real opportunities to exchange ideas and enhance the formal aspect of learning, or consult with mentors by email or phone. All of which spend unforeseen time and effort. But in developing a structured schedule for yourself, and sticking to it, you will be able to handle the workload and discover additional learning benefits along the way.

Plan for midterm or final exams.
While the start date of your course term is very important, and midterm and final exams may seem like a long way off, they often have a way of sneaking up on you. Some courses have a final paper or project in lieu of a final exam, while others utilize paper examinations or online, proctored assessments that typically require registration for a test appointment. Understand how your course exams work, and keep up with any readings, to plan and organize effectively. Be conscious of these far-off dates so you can avoid last minute cramming or late-night writing. Anything you can do in advance will only help you later as commitments pile up.


The key to excelling in an online course is commitment – to your assignments, examinations, projects, online discussions – and most importantly, to yourself. No one is going to tell you how and when to complete your assignments, or remind you of due dates and deadlines. Online classes are only what you make of them and by using the tools provided above, you can drive your classes towards success.

Tags: Going Back to College , Taking Courses , Time Management

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5 Essential Tools to Conquer (Even Accidental) Plagiarism

Posted Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The Internet is certainly a wonderful thing. It has allowed us to stay informed about the political upheavals of countries thousands of miles away, stay connected with friends and family across oceans, take part in the latest viral dance craze, and of course, lets students from around the world obtain a degree by removing barriers like time and place. Because of the availability of resources at our disposal, we can find information on any topic, in any language, from any time, with the tap of a button through the 634 million websites available.

But like all good things, it can be misused. The sheer volume of accessible and free sources at our fingertips has provided for increased confusion and error, giving even greater rise to plagiarism than ever before. Plagiarism is considered the unattributed use of intellectual property protected under U.S. law (you can read more about that here). And while colleges and universities have serious disciplinary action policies regarding plagiarism, the practice can also prevent you from developing key writing skills.

Whether intentional or accidental, plagiarism can be avoided by simply including citations and acknowledging any borrowed content. Here are 5 essential tools to help you avoid plagiarism and ensure your work is original and accurate:

An online plagiarism detector, provides an originality report identifying any feedback or information that alludes to non-original work, even if the text has been reworded or reformatted. Typically a paid service, it is accessible for free to enrolled Thomas Edison State College students taking online courses. allows you to not only see your slip-ups and clean them up on your own, but the final originality report can also be submitted to your mentor as evidence of your efforts.

Another online tutorial service, Thomas Edison State College students registered in courses can use this tool for free. Live, expert educators are available to provide you writing assistance and personalized feedback on your work. To allow for the live nature of this resource, submit your drafts at least 48 hours in advance to receive your review.

Similar to the previous two tools, is another fee-based plagiarism checker, offering an analysis of your content, citations and sources cross-referenced with other works. The service also offers a grammar check to ensure a proper writing style, as well as professional tutoring services to critique your submissions.


Request for Extension

More an option than a tool, Thomas Edison State College’s Request for Course Extension form can be obtained through your mentor if you require more time to complete an assignment because of an illness, financial difficulty or military deployment. You can use the 8-week extension time valuably to review and edit your paper on your own by conducting a Google search on select passages.

A resource that provides more how-to’s and explanations than services, describes different citation styles and a glossary of terms, while also providing guides on how to cite your resources, paraphrase, use quotes and more. If you are unsure about a source, can give you a definitive answer.


Whether you are answering a question on a discussion board, or submitting a lengthy, footnoted research paper, you should be proud of what you have written; it is a reflection of you. Using the resources available to you to help critique your work can be an immense confidence booster when that final grade comes in. Ultimately, every writing assignment will help you develop and sharpen the writing skills necessary to lead you on the educational and professional paths of success that you have already begun by becoming a college student.





Tags: Online Tools and Resources , Student Services , Study Tips

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