Last week I was at the Welcome Back BBQ and Student Orientation session on the TRU campus where I happened to meet a very dedicated student. She was enrolled in a full-time TRU program and was taking two additional courses through Open Learning. The amount of work she had cheerfully signed up for was chilling, and while she’s a old pro at this and knows what she’s getting into, it got me thinking about what can happen in the beginning of the school year that gets people into trouble later.
In September, the course material all seems new and interesting and exams are naught but a distance speck on the horizon, a mere cloud in a bright and shining sky. Optimism can lead you to think you’re capable of a full-time course load, a rockin’ GPA and several part-time jobs. I know I did, but by the time exams rolled around I was usually a frantic mess.
There are ways to avoid this. We have information on scheduling your time on our orientation pages, and there are a host of other opinions – expert and otherwise – on how to create a schedule and stick to it. Here are some things you should not do if you don’t want to reach the end of your course feeling let down.
Don’t be a hero. When you sit down with your calendar to map out your schedule for the course(s), don’t imagine that between now and then you’ll somehow acquire superhero qualities that will have you studying between 10 p.m. and midnight, working all day and coming home to recreate a Bobby Flay recipe. Prepare to work hard, but be kind to yourself too. As a general rule, we recommend that students taking full-time distance ed courses for the first time take no more than three courses at a time; for students who work full-time, try one or two courses at once.
Don’t alienate your peers. This may sound obvious. But it can be easier than you think to send the wrong message to other students in an online course – and if you start off on the wrong foot, the atmosphere can turn chilly, and that can quickly sap your enthusiasm for the course. Keep in mind that jokes and sarcasm may be interpreted differently when written than spoken, and if you’re really serious about making online interactions with your peers better, you may like to check out this paper from the U.K.’s Open University.
Don’t get sloppy. When I was in second year, I asked my professor if she would be a reference for a job I was applying for. When I emailed her the details of the job, I spelt her name wrong. She still wrote me the reference letter, but pointed out that this was a pretty shoddy mistake. I have not yet recovered from the shame. In all your interactions with your prof, even those for which you aren’t graded, be professional.
Don’t let your health slide. When you go back to school, you may as well be placing your routine in a blender. It may be tempting to change other, good habits – like the amount of sleep you get, or what you eat for dinner, or how much you exercise. But if these things work for you when you aren’t taking a course, you should continue to make time for them.
Don’t miss out. If you’re an off-campus student, you might not feel that you are getting a fresh start at all. But I always found it was helpful to create my own rituals. Even if it was just buying a new pen or notebook, having something blank or different can make it feel like a fresh start. Oh, and while you’re at it, organize your desk. You’ll feel like a new person.