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The Nuts and Bolts of Taking a Course Online

March 18, 2020 by Karen Grossman |


Online learning is the perfect fit for your busy schedule. You can log in to a course after the kids go to bed, on weekends, and before work. It’s a convenience that makes earning a degree possible.

But are you still wondering how exactly online courses work and what to expect once you log in? We answer some questions about these interactive courses for you.


What tools will I use in my online course?
An online course isn’t a replica of the face-to-face learning experience. The online format provides new opportunities for more interactive and individualized learning. A variety of content and tools offer lots of ways to learn a topic.

For example, professors don’t rely only on textbooks. In an online course, you may find links to:

  • articles
  • interactive websites
  • journals
  • scripts
  • speeches
  • historical documents
  • anthologies

You’ll find multimedia presentations that keep content interesting for all learners. Video and audio content can be played again and again, such as TED Talks, famous speeches, interviews, and animations.

You may need to familiarize yourself with a webcam, Canvas learning management program, and WebEx collaboration software. You can read more about those tools on UNC Greensboro’s Ready to Learn site.

Will online courses be interactive?
As an online student, you will be expected to participate in class and interact with the professor and other students. Professors may not be there to see it in person, but they have ways to make sure you understand course content. They want you to succeed.

Professors can track your progress in a course with:

  • course analytics, which tell log-in activity
  • discussion boards, which may show understanding of a topic

How can I contact my professor?
In online courses, professors hold virtual office hours. These set times each week when they are available for students can be via email, phone, or video, through such formats as Skype, Google Hangouts, or WebEx.

Professors will let you know what to expect from them during the first class, from the best way to reach them to virtual office hours to how long it will take them to respond. (Though you can email them 24/7, you shouldn’t expect a reply at 3 a.m.) In addition to office hours, many professors may send weekly announcements or record weekly update videos.

Discussion boards also help generate feedback. General discussion boards may be available for class questions, tech support, and other needs.

How do I take a dance course (or lab) online?
It may be surprising but yes, you can take courses like dance, music, and science labs online. These courses are highly interactive.

In Dance Appreciation, a mixture of multimedia, interactive activities, design, comprehension questions, and assessments provides a supportive and effective online learning experience for students, says Susie Boles, assistant director of instructional design and project manager for the course.

“The activities are purposefully designed to help students achieve their learning objectives,” she says. “With the instructors, we designed the course so that the students are active learners engaged with the dance topics and each other and able to integrate the content with their daily lives.”

As a dance appreciation student, you may:

  • watch a dance video and answer questions to interpret it
  • learn choreography by stringing illustrated poses together
  • practice personal movement each week, such as dance, yoga, aerobics, or sports
  • journal online to reflect about personal movement
  • take a virtual tour of a campus theater
  • watch a dance video set to your choice of music

In Biology Lab, follow a fictional narrated story that uses multimedia and interactive tools to teach the scientific method.

During the lab, you may:

  • collaborate with a lab team via videoconferencing
  • perform lab experiments with easy-to-find materials from home or a local store
  • test astrological predictions and the effects of biorhythms, and study photosynthesis and decomposition
  • watch videos to learn about cells, dog breeding, sleep, and more
  • collect and analyze data

Interested in online learning?
UNCG offers a variety of innovative online courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Check out UNCG’s online degrees and certificates.

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