The University Network

How To Ace Your Online Courses – Interview With Dr. Amanda Groff From University of Central Florida

TUN sits down with Dr. Amanda Groff, an associate lecturer and online coordinator in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Central Florida, to discuss how students can ace their online courses, which is particularly important now given the pivot to virtual education. 

TUN: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today!

DR. GROFF: Hi! Thank you so much for having me. 

TUN: So before we get into specific tips, do you have any overarching advice for students to help alleviate the stress and anxiety they might be feeling heading into a semester full of online classes?

DR. GROFF: Absolutely. I think a lot of stress and anxiety for students comes from that unknown — the unknown of what online is going to be like. So, I like to recommend students to do some investigating before the semester starts. 

Go look at your university’s websites that concern online education and see if they have any tutorials about the learning platform that online courses are given in. Understanding what it looks like and how it functions is going to be immensely helpful at alleviating some of that anxiety that you encounter as you’re endeavoring upon taking online courses. 

TUN: Great. So, there’s a lot of negativity surrounding online classes right now. So, to put a positive spin on things and help students become more excited, can you walk me through some of the benefits of online learning — the positive aspects of taking classes online? 

DR. GROFF: Sure! So, there is this negativity. But I actually see it as quite the opposite! I find that students, through online education and taking numerous online courses, really do enhance their time-management skills, because being online students requires you to take ownership of your own education and to learn what works best for you with getting and completing coursework within a good amount of time. 

So, I find that, in the long run, students end up becoming better at time management. And this is reflected in traditional face-to-face courses, beyond going online. 

Additionally, I think a really wonderful benefit is the flexibility that online education offers students, because, these days, students aren’t what they used to be 30 years ago. They are non-traditional. They have families. They have jobs. And online courses give them the opportunity to engage in coursework while making it work within their own life schedule.

TUN: So now let’s kind of get down to the grades. So — preparing for online classes before this semester starts — what are some things students can do to give them a head start and set themselves up for a successful semester?

DR. GROFF: There are a few things I can suggest here. First of which is to really do a self-evaluation of when you learn best. Some people are morning people, so maybe that’s when they schedule themselves to do their work for their online courses. Some people are night owls. Maybe they work better in the evenings. 

So, I think a lot of self-evaluation is important before the semester starts, to realize, “Okay, I work better in the mornings. Let me build a routine for all of my courses that focus on that morning time, or the evening time — whatever works best.”

And, with that, I think it’s immensely important to really think about their routine that they’re going forward with in the semester. You know, figuring out, “okay, this is going to be my work schedule. This is what you know my responsibilities are with children or other things related to the home.”

So, I think it’s very, very important for students to do some self-evaluation before the semester starts. I also think it’s very important for students to reach out if they aren’t sure how the course is going to work.  

I’m on duty. Faculty are on duty a week or two, usually, before the semester starts, so shoot us an email. If you’re not quite sure how the class is going to work, send us a question. We’re very happy to engage with you and make sure the course is the right fit for you. 

Make sure that you have your textbook organized, because, a lot of times, online courses dive right in. You’re going to have assignments that are going to come up within the first couple weeks of the semester. So it’s important to have access to the textbook. So, make sure, as with any course, to investigate what text is required and do your best to have that by the start of the semester. 

TUN: So, I know sometimes students actually can’t choose where they’re taking their online courses. Sometimes there are barriers that might keep some students in a room with a lot of other people. Other students, though, might be in the places where they’re used to relaxing — maybe their dorm room or their bedroom in their house or apartment. So, what are some tips you can give those students to keep them motivated, organized and productive while they might be taking their classes from their couch?

DR. GROFF: I think it’s very important to set up a routine and designate a location in your home or in your dorm room that you solely identify as being related to doing coursework. You know it’s so easy to sit on the couch and answer questions to a discussion post, but you really need to create a space that is all for your school work. That way, you flip a switch in your brain whenever you sit in that location. 

If you’re sharing a dorm room, that can become complicated. But, speaking with roommates, working on a schedule like, “I need to work on my classes from this time to this time. Can I have the space?” Or, talking to your parents or talking to your partner about making sure the kids are occupied. 

It’s very important to set up that routine. So, the first day of the semester, look at your schedule. Professors are going to put up literally when everything is going to be due throughout the semester. You can sit down and go, “all right, on this day and this day I’m going to be working from this time to this time. I need to be left alone.” Or, “this is my spot to work.”

I think that that is immensely important to be successful in online courses. 

TUN: So, you’ve already given us a ton of great tips. I would ask, though, do you have anything that comes to mind that maybe we haven’t talked about yet that students can consider throughout the semester to help them excel in their online courses?

DR. GROFF: Probably the biggest piece of advice is study. You know a lot of students will take for granted that perhaps they are allowed to use their textbook or they have this information at their fingertips. But, I find it immensely important to dedicate time throughout the week leading up to a quiz or to an exam to really throw yourself into preparing for it, studying like you would any other type of course any other type of modality. It’s immensely important to build those skills because you’re going to carry those forward in your career as a student. 

Probably the biggest tip I can give you students is to communicate. Communicate with me as your professor. If something is wrong, I won’t know unless you speak up. So, please let us know if you need assistance, if you don’t understand a concept, or if you’re ill. Just communicate with us, because quite often online courses are well over 100 students. So, it’s really hard for us to maintain what’s going on in each individual student’s lives. So, you need to keep in touch with us so that we can best help you. 

TUN: Great. Thank you again very much, Dr. Groff, for taking the time to speak with us and provide your helpful tips. 

DR. GROFF: I’m very happy to help. 

This interview has been edited for clarity. Watch the full video here.