Surviving an Online Physics Course.

Surviving an online physics course is simpler than surviving a zombie apocalypse.  At least it is if you make a plan and stick to it.

Some of the advice in this post will work for in-person physics classes or even other subjects, so feel free to take notes and apply what you learn.

I have been teaching online physics courses for several years, and I can see where students have done well or fallen behind.  I would like to share some of these strategies with you.  Hopefully they help you succeed in your online.

1. Set a schedule.

In a face to face classroom, you see your professor several times each week.  You do not schedule anything else for that time.  That meeting reminds you of the work that you need to do.  If your professor is nice, they might even let you work on things during the class time.

With an online class, there may not be any set meeting times.  It is up to you to remember to go online and do the work.  This is where many students fall behind.  Without that scheduled time, it is easy to put things off or maybe even forget that you are registered for a class.

2. Break up your scheduled time.

I would recommend that you set aside several blocks of time throughout the week during which you will always work on your physics class.  Do not set aside six hours all in one day, though.  Break the blocks up into chunks about an hour long.  You can have two one-hour blocks together, but give yourself a break every once and awhile to get up and move around.

Make sure to schedule enough time for reading the textbook, doing the labs, working on homework, and reviewing the material.  You can even designate specific times for working on specific tasks.  Be a little flexible with this.  If you have finished your homework halfway through a homework block, use the time to read ahead or quiz yourself. 

3. Do the work regularly.

If you wait until you are motivated to work, you will not get nearly enough work done (studying and problem solving) to do well in the class.  People who go to the gym at regularly scheduled times, even when they do not feel like it, do much better than folks who only go when they “feel motivated”.  Motivation doesn’t get things done.  Habit gets things done.

4.  Read the textbook.

I am always surprised, and I try to not laugh out loud when a student tells me that they read the book and were surprised at how much they learned.

Textbooks are designed to help you learn the material.  The author spent much more time writing the section on parallel circuits than your instructor did when putting together the related lecture.  Chances are that your instructor condensed the textbook page down, leaving out some small details that might help you understand better.  Read the book, watch the lecture, and review the lecture notes.  Do all three, and don’t ignore the book.

5.  Do the Work and Do It Early.

In an online course, there are lots of things to be done.  You need to get those things done.  Your in-person teacher may not mind if you turn something in later in the afternoon, but your online teacher may have to change some settings for you to be able to turn something in late.  If you e-mail it, it makes it harder for the professor to correct it.

You may find that the due dates for multiple assignments fall on the same day for an online class.  For example, I break my homework assignments up into many small pieces, but they are all due on the same day.  This gives students flexibility to work on things at their own pace.

I also set the due date for 11:59 pm on the due date.  However, if a student sends me a question about the assignment after 7:00 pm on the due date, chances are that I have stopped working for the day.  If you work on things early, you can ask questions when you are stuck.  You also do not have to worry about the thunderstorm that knocks out your power on the due date.

These are not the only things that will help with surviving an online physics course.  Hopefully though, they will help you get moving in the right direction.

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