Community College of Rhode Island

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New to distance learning? - Read through our orientation materials and learn what it takes to be a successful online student. [Learn more]

Courses updated - Course offerings have been updated for the spring semester. [Find courses]

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Get Off to a Good Start with Distance Learning

happy computer userReading through this Distance Learning (DL) orientation is a great start!  Once you've completed the orientation, you'll have strategies for getting oriented to a new DL course, managing your time, staying motivated, getting help if you need it, setting up your workspace, doing library research, and managing your technology.

The focus of this part of the orientation is planning for success and orienting to a new DL course.  It has the following sections:

Seek advising and select the right course

Set realistic goals

Find the information you need in a new DL course


Seek advising and select the right course

It is very important that you select a DL course that fits into your program of study and for which you are well prepared.  DL students have access to the same services as on-campus students.  Check with advising and counseling before selecting a course.  It is also a good idea to check with the department and professor offering the course to ensure that you have the necessary knowledge for success.

Set realistic goals

You probably have a long-term goal, such as completing a degree or certificate or gaining skills that will help you advance or change your career.  You should also set short-term goals in order to define success for yourself and guide you in evaluating your progress.

Set semester goals for yourself, such as the grades you would like to achieve and the knowledge you want to gain.  To realistically set these goals, consider the grades you've earned in other, similar courses, how long it's been since you've studied a similar subject, whether your grades in prerequisite courses were strong, and how much time you have to devote to this course.  Do you have other obligations that might make it difficult to achieve your goals? 

Online courses take as much time, if not more time, than on-campus courses.  One rule of thumb is that there are two hours of out-of-class work for every hour in class.  That means for a three-hour class, you should expect to spend at least nine hours per week. Do you have that time?  Do you have a little more than that to allow for potential communication delays, technical problems, or other issues?

What goals can you realistically set for each week?  Can you set a goal to find nine (or more) hours to work on your course and stick to it?  Can you set a goal to accomplish all assignments each week on time?  You might consider other goals as well, such as discussing feedback with your professor so you can improve on subsequent assignments, finding a study partner in the class, or making a potential professional contact.

Find the information you need in a new DL course

It's a good idea to make a plan for accomplishing your work each week in your courses.  Here are some of the questions you should answer before the semester begins:

  • What textbook and other materials are required, and how do you obtain them?
  • Will you need any special hardware or software, and how do you acquire and install it?
  • What are your assignments, when are they due, and how do you submit them?
  • Will you be required to post to the discussion board?  If so, how often, and what are the criteria for a high-quality post?  A rubric is sometimes provided by a professor to communicate the criteria for high-quality work.
  • Will you be required to participate in a synchronous (real-time) chat?  If so, when and how often?
  • How does your professor prefer that you communicate?  For example: CCRI email, or within-Blackboard messaging.
  • What sort of turn-around time can you expect on email messages and assignments?
  • How will feedback be provided to you on assignments?
  • Will you be required to come to a campus for any class meetings or testing?  When and which campus?

Every professor will organize a course and communicate that information to you a little differently, but there are several places you should look before you email the professor with questions:

  • Read the complete syllabus.  You will find important course policies and other information for which you are responsible. 
  • Read your CCRI email.  Your professor might send messages to the entire class and to you individually.
  • Check for an announcements page in the learning management system and read through it.
  • Look at the structure of the course within the learning management system.  Follow all of the links so you know where all of the resources and requirements are located.
  • Look for a course calendar.  This might be part of the learning management system, or it might be a text or pdf document provided to you through email or in the course.  Not all professors provide a calendar for the entire semester, as they might set deadlines as the course progresses.
  • Some courses have a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page.
  • The professor may have indicated the best way to ask questions (for example a particular discussion board in the class, email, within-LMS messaging, telephone).  If you have done all of the above and can't find what you're looking for, contact the professor using the preferred method.

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Last Updated: 3/21/14