Friday, November 2, 2007

Online College Degree - How To Negotiate The System

If you are considering an online college degree program, you may have a number of questions about the process. Many questions can be answered by reading the frequently asked questions that are generally detailed on each college's website. However, it is difficult for a FAQ to address all of the concerns that new students may have. Here is an insider's guide to the world of the online college degree.

Research the technical concerns. The vast majority of online college degree programs require students to use an in-house software program. This streamlines course lectures, assignments, discussions and tests by putting everyone involved onto the same system. Even your school-related email will probably go to an assigned email address on the school's server.

The streamlining benefits of using a standard software system cannot be denied. However, since everyone's computer setup is different, getting the software to work on everyone's computer can be tricky. Tech support departments vary widely, with some seemingly able to fix even obscure problems and others unable to fix even glaring errors.

In order to lessen your chances of technical difficulties, perform a tune up on your computer prior to installing the school's software. Read the computer hardware specifications carefully, and be sure that your computer exceeds (rather than just meets) the specifications. RAM quantity and processor speed are the most common causes of difficulty, so do not skimp in these areas.

Run a system maintenance tool along with antivirus software on your system just before installation. Fix any errors in your computer. Also consider de-fragmenting the hard drive. A freshly cleaned hard drive is much more likely to run new software without difficulty. Also follow any specific technical recommendations from disabling antivirus programs to allowing pop-ups on the site.

Learn the class requirements. Once the software is installed and properly running on your system, take the time to thoroughly explore your class website. Read the welcome notes. Find the syllabus and read through it. Post in the Getting to Know You folder. Send a hello message to your professor and fellow classmates.

These activities have a twofold purpose. First, they help with class cohesion. In an online college degree program, it can be difficult to gel with classmates through the anonymity of the Internet environment. Posting in discussion forums can help build relationships through common interests. Equally important is the familiarity with the software that these exercises will build. Your first assignments will be nerve-wracking, but a thorough knowledge of the process of completing them will lower your stress level dramatically.

Ask Questions. Office hours are an important part of any professor's schedule, and online classes are no exception. Your professor's welcome notes will probably detail ways in which you can contact the professor. Take advantage of these channels to ask any questions that you may have. Most website concerns are generally addressed by the tech support staff. Find out who they are and how to contact them. Also find out the professor's policy on work that is turned in late due to technical difficulties. You may need to document your experiences with tech support and submit a job number that is generated by the tech department. Take the time to discover and learn this process.

Earning an online college degree is a terrific option for working professionals and those who have been out of school for some time. However, the relative newness of the format means that many students are completely unfamiliar with the process. Follow the tips above to help make your transition to the world of online education as easy as possible. Some apprehension is normal, but with a bit of work you can be a success.

Andy West is a writer for Virginia College. Virginia College Online offers many online college degree programs. Visit Virginia College Online to select the online program that is right for you.

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