Online courses are courses that are taken completely online instead of in a regular face to face classroom. There is an instructor and other students in the class, but each student must log in to the course individually, at home or anywhere with a computer, to read the lectures and complete assignments and exams. All communication and submission of assignments is done online.
Nowadays, most universities, colleges, institutions, high schools and even middle and elementary schools offer online courses for their students. Some schools of higher education offer fully online degrees although not in all disciplines, but more and more are added every day. There are also several universities that are solely online.
How do online courses work?
All online courses are taught using a platform, or program that you have to log in to. Usually, you will be required to complete an orientation to learn to navigate the platform and familiarize yourself with the basics before starting your first online course. You will learn how to access the lessons, submit assignments, communicate with your professor and classmates as well as access many other internal and external resources.
Just like in a face to face course, you will be given a syllabus, calendar, textbook and all the information needed for you to take the course. Depending on the course and the professor, you will have to read the lectures online, watch videos (either of the professor or external ones), listen to audio, read from the textbook or assigned books. Most lessons are online and you might find it easier to print them out if the readings or lectures are long. And just like in a regular classroom, you’ll have to submit assignments, write papers, create power point presentations, take quizzes, exams, etc.
Usually, all communication is done within the platform, via chat, email and video conferences. Professors usually have virtual office hours, a time when you can contact them via telephone, chat or video.
How are assignments and exams taken in an online course?
Most probably you will be asked to submit your assignments online (upload files or type your answers directly into a response box). Just like in a regular classroom, quizzes and exams can be of any kind (multiple choice, short answer, essay question, etc) and are completed online. Keep in mind that in an online course you might have some flexibility as to the time or day that you can take the quiz or exam, but they are usually available during a specific window of time. This means you might have three days to complete an exam and it might feel like you have ample time, but if you’re not paying attention to your calendar, those three days might pass by quickly and you’ll be struggling to complete the exam in time or miss it completely. Since everything in online courses is computerized, even if you’re a few seconds late, you will not be able to access to the exam anymore or will be marked late.
Some online courses require a proctored midterm and/or proctored final exam. This means you will need to take the midterm or final (or both) at a testing center either your school’s campus or any other approved testing center, without your textbook or notes and in the presence of a proctor. Unlike other quizzes or exams during the semester, these proctored exams usually require a password to access them, reason why you can only take it at a testing center where your proctor will give you access. (In other words, you will not be able to access it from home even if you try). You will need to make sure you are available during the specific days the exam is scheduled and make an appointment at your local testing center. Midterm and final exam weeks can be busy, so you want to make sure you give yourself extra time when you go to take your exam in case you have to wait.
For students who do not live near their school or cannot make it to a testing center during their business hours, there are services like ProctorU, that allow you to take a proctored exam from home. For this, you’ll need to make an appointment with them during the days your exam is available. During your scheduled time, you will have an online proctor who will grant you access to the exam and will monitor your computer activity. You can find more information about ProctorU here.