Blog: Online Courses

Univision.com | Sep 05, 2013 | 3:31 PM

By Elsa Blanco

“Over the years, I have seen a great difference between the expectations and strategies of online a”
My name is Elsa Blanco and I’m from Pinar del Rio, Cuba. I’m a senior at Florida International University majoring in Public Relations. My interests include South Korean pop, manga, photography, graphics editing, and any supernatural book. My goal is to represent a major publishing house or a South Korean record label.
Over the years, I have seen a great difference between the expectations and strategies of online and in-person courses. These types of classes require different levels of commitment and individual responsibility.
From my personal experience, I have noted that online classes rely heavily on private study time and rigid deadlines. Generally, exams are very thorough, group dynamics are limited, and there is little to no syllabus flexibility. There is a great misconception that the online counterpart of a course will always be easier.
However, these students are unaware that generally professors are stricter online. For example, I have compared an in-class syllabus with the online-class syllabus for the same professor and the differences are staggering.
For Monday, the in-class schedule states: “read chapter and discuss thoughts in class.” Meanwhile, the online counterpart directs: “read chapter, participate in the online discussion with a set word limit, and do weekly quiz on chapter by Friday.”
Professors need to be sterner online to force students to do the reading; since they can’t hold a mass lecture and calculate what percentage of the class is actively keeping up and participating.
Another feature that I dislike about online classes is timed quizzes and exams. Although all assessments are timed in person as well, literally seeing the clock ticking down can be extremely nerve-wracking; especially, if you experience technical problems with saving your answers.
So, if you are a student who is considering taking an online course because you’re shy and don’t want to speak up in class—think again. Online courses are designed to demand your opinion at every turn; in the meantime, in-person courses might put you in the situation only a handful of times.
 

Studying Memorization Strategies

Studying is an art: it takes time to master it, you develop your own technique and the results are usually unpredictable. Below are a few tips to help make your next studying session less painful, more organized, and reasonably successful.
1. Be informed about the test subjects. First things first. Is the quiz/test based on the book? Is it on the class notes? On both? You need to be informed in order to ace the exam. If the professor says to concentrate on the class notes alone, don’t look at the book. Professors don’t want to trick you. They might place two or three questions based on the book but the quantity isn’t significant enough to double the amount of memorization, studying time and stress.
2. No electronic devices. I know I sound like a high school teacher saying this but it’s true. Phones are perhaps the biggest distractions. I actually study on my computer but I have enough self-control to not check Tumblr every five seconds. If you lack this control, print or write down your notes and study in a room that lacks disturbance.
3. Condense information. Summarize everything into as few words as possible. Then highlight specific words in-between the set information. Ignore grammar rules while studying; run-on and incomplete sentences are your best friends here. However, if you’re writing an essay in the exam – don’t continue the idea on paper.
4. Acronyms. If you need to memorize a series of facts or a list, use acronyms. For instance the names Clinton, Reagan, Adams, Bush and Buchanan turn into “C.R.A.B.B.”. Try making the acronyms funny or meaningful so they are more memorable. If it’s too difficult to create a coherent acronym try adding a conjunction (such as “and”) or placing the letters in an order that creates a peculiar, unforgettable sound (e.g. Grant, Roosevelt, and Reagan turn into “G.R.R.”).
5. Create songs or stories. This sounds crazy but it completely works. I once had to memorize Japan’s 47 prefectures so I created a story based on the names (Akita and Aomori went to Hokkaido to meet Iwate). I got an A; if you commit it stays in your head.
6. Don’t have a tick. By this I mean, don’t study while doing something that you can’t recreate during the test. For example, don’t study while holding on to a pillow or drinking coffee nonstop. These actions usually become cues in your brain that help you memorize; most of the time unconsciously. Then when you’re taking the exam and you can’t reach for your coffee (the cue), the words don’t come. Keep your studying simple and direct.
7. Manage your time. Give each page a reasonable time limit. That way if you fall behind schedule, you realize what you’re having trouble memorizing and should concentrate on. In addition, it helps you in managing the content summarization and ability to review all of your notes.

University Technology Services

Every university provides highly useful and essential technology services to registered students. Many of these services are entirely free and can facilitate your learning experience exponentially.
You can become aware of what your university offers by researching the technology services online or visiting the Division/Office of Information Technology. I can say, from personal experience, that I wish I’d known about these from my freshman year.
I’ll discuss some of the services that FIU provides as an example. Many of these services are universal programs adapted by universities on a national scale.
1. Elabs:
• It’s a program that gives you access to the same software available at FIU’s open computer labs.• It gives you access to programs such as Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and Flash Professional.• Installation is very easy and it gives you the comfort of working at home, rather than staying extra hours at the computer labs.
2. Highly-discounted Software:
• As a student, you receive a certain percentage discount on software.
3. Free Software:
• FIU offers Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Access and OneNote.• Antivirus software• Windows and Mac compatible software
4. E-Training:
• Access to atomiclearning.com, an extensive tutorials website with bilingual capabilities.

Building Relationships with Professors

Building relationships with professors is perhaps one of the scariest aspects of the university experience.
After class, I’ve seen this scenario play out too many times: the professor asks a student a question; he/she receives a generic one-liner answer; and then said student bolts out the door as if scorched.
I’m actually extremely shy but am known on a first name bases by a lot of my professors. A lot of students have the misconception that in order to build relationships with professors you need to constantly answer questions in class, overachieve, and stay behind after lessons to endlessly compliment.
I think this is a mentality that comes from the stereotypical high school “teacher’s pet”. You can build relationships and even friendships with your professors by creating content that is different and original, by showing passion for your topic, and by simply being dedicated.
Professors like to speak with students that are not just there to fill a seat. You can be quiet in class and expressive in your work. I think I can count with one hand the number of times I’ve raised mine in the last four years.
Here are a few ways to start the conversations.
1. Location: If you’re shy about speaking to your professor in public or simply in front of your fellow students, set up a meeting during their office hours.
2. Topics: Ask for help, tips, and advice relating to their experience in their field of study.
3. Caution: If you are struggling in the class, treat the topic of extra-credit with care; some professors absolutely abhor the idea.
4. Dialogue Continuation: Keep them updated about your progress during projects. When professors ask in class, “How is everyone doing with their projects?” They actually mean it.
5. Incentive: I find it extremely amazing when professors are overwhelmed when you do more than is expected. By doing a little more you can receive a lot back.
6. Timing: Being on time is the Holy Grail for dialogue establishments. If you’re there five or ten minutes before everyone else, your professor will want to know more about you.
 

How to Handle Financial Aid Issues

I’ve had a lot of Financial Aid problems. Accidently, I once started a loan transfer; I’ve been accused of not being a citizen; and my scholarships have literally disappeared a week before class begins. I’ve basically adapted an extremely calm and collective approach to Financial Aid – I’ve lived through it all! I think a lot of freshmen tend to overreact when something goes amiss.
I’ve seen the classic symptoms: staying on hold for 45 minutes, filling out the wrong forms, or waking up two hours early to make the line at the Financial Aid office and still waiting for over half an hour for assistance.
Obviously, the concern shows that they’re invested in their scholarly endeavors. However, my best advice is to just relax, take a deep breath, only go in person (too many phone calls have solved very little for me), and calmly explain your situation. The truth is as follows, most of the time the change isn’t your fault; it’s a faulty system.
The first thing you should do is check for any mass emails by the Financial Aid office. Mass emails mean that there is a universal technical problem and that they are working on correcting it; hence, there is no need to worry or make a line.
If there are no emails, then ask your fellow classmates. If they’re experiencing similar problems they probably went to the office and can tell you the cause and solution.
If your problem is highly individualistic (e.g. accidental loan activation) then I would suggest going in person. Don’t waste your time filling out forms beforehand since there are plenty of outdated forms still online. Faxing information isn’t a very good idea either; I’ve had three separate copies sent in three separate weeks completely disappear from the face of the earth.
Thus, go in person to ask about your problem, ask specifically for the links of the necessary information, and provide said information in person instead of electronically sending it.

Video Project Tips

Below is a guide for students, regarding the creation of films and videos with nonexistent budgets. Certain digital media classes require the making of videos as part of a large multimedia assignment. I’m not an expert in any respect. However, I have some pointers for students doing their first video project for the university.
• 1. Lighting: It is the most important aspect to consider when filming.- It needs to be controllable otherwise differences from frame to frame will be staggering, especially if filming in different locations.
Suggestions: - Rent out lights from the “equipment room” or technology department of your university. If unsure of how to use them, ask for a hands-on tutorial. - Turn off all the lights and use one primary light source in all the shots. • This will only apply if solely filming indoors. • A very bright lamp (with a white bulb) is especially good for dramatic backdrops. • Lava lamps of different colors create variety and atmospheric intensity.
Warnings: - Don’t use a lamp with a yellow bulb; it gives a rather tired and sickly gloom. - Only rent out lights if you know how to use them, otherwise you will get burned or blast them (with improper tuning).
• 2. Theme: Consider your theme when making stylistic and editing choices. - Light or dark? - Fun or Serious? - Professional or informal?
• 3. Subject: Choose a subject that goes with your personality and time management skills. - If you’re artistic and a procrastinator, I would suggest a subject that can have an abstract video (e.g. books, musicians, albums, movies, etc.). - If you’re not artistic and hyperaware of deadlines, then I would suggest a more strict topic (e.g. a cause, an event, a store, etc.).
• 4. Editing: For editing, you should keep things simple.- Transitions: Dissolve, cross dissolve, and fade.
- If the quality of your video isn’t the best, play around with filters and effects. - Black and white effect - Saturation - Brightness/Contrast
• 5. Supplies & Inspiration: If you can’t come up with any ideas or have a strict budget, get creative. - Photography provides great inspiration; every photo does equal a thousand words. - Visiting your local thrift shop can provide all the supplies you need at incredibly cheap prices (e.g. fish tank, tall lamp, birdcage, accessories, clothes, etc.).
• 6. Action shots: There are objects, elements and scenes that create great action sequences regardless of the quality of the video. - Water (e.g. shifting, sinking objects, dissolving effect, etc.). - Multiple colors in one frame (e.g. lollipops, buttons, accessories, etc.). - Time-lapse activity (e.g. traffic, sunrise, building, drawing, etc.). - Backward sequences (e.g. objects falling, things shattering, birds, etc.) - Wind (e.g. shifting trees, hair flowing, etc.)

Group Guidelines

I’ve worked in a lot of group dynamics, specifically, mandatory group projects. Some students find it difficult to work with others, especially those who are control freaks to my strict degree. I have taken control (when there is a complete lack of leadership) and gone with the flow (when the group is composed of creative individuals who can shine on their own).
I can tell the warning signs of a group that will not function, how to beware of the students that will do nothing while demanding credit, and how to deal with a situation where you should exclude someone from the project credits.
One of the primary things that you need to do is establish a concrete understanding of what is expected from the team members in the group. Everyone should understand that each individual is responsible for the group’s content, not each other. If you fail to provide what is expected you will not receive credit; unless it’s a meaningful emergency that the group unanimously agrees is reasonable. Here are some basic guidelines to follow.
1. Don’t accept the word “emergency” only, ask for an explanation. True story: A group member said that she had an emergency and couldn’t turn in her part of the assignment. When asked to elaborate, she said that she was in Palm Beach and didn’t have internet service. That’s NOT an emergency.
2. Get everyone’s contact information; I can’t stress this enough. Emails (the most frequently checked) and phone numbers are a must. Trust me when I say, you will need both most of the time to locate your team members.
3. Ask what times would be best to call or text.
4. Ask about their schedules. At first, this might seem a bit invasive; however, you need to create one schedule that fits all of your needs in order to finish the project. In addition, I find that group members begin to lie about their class times in order to dodge staying more hours than necessary when working on the project.
5. Write down what everyone is responsible for, email it to them and have them agree electronically by answering via email. This avoids the cliché where the student adamantly denies that they agreed to do a specific section.
6. Become the leader. If you take control then you know everything that is happening – who is slacking, what sections need the most work, the coherence of the overall piece, etc. It’s better to be over-involved than left in the dark.
7. Have several different members proofread.
8. If presenting with your group – practice, practice, practice! Especially if it’s a timed arrangement.
9. If someone in the group isn’t a particularly strong writer, make them a “researcher”.
10. If one of the group members does not contribute, speak with your other members and unanimously come to the conclusion of excluding the student and notifying the professor.
11. Be respectful.

Free Software and Tutorials

Throughout the years I have found great free software and helpful guides. I’ve decided to share some of these sources so that they may help someone else in their educational endeavors. I already did a post about free photo editing software, here are other sources.
• Best websites for tutorials:
Atomiclearning.com: It has thorough video tutorials for Final Cut Express, Final Cut Pro, Photoshop, InDesign, etc. The best part is that you can choose between different platforms and versions.
Youtube: If you have a very specific problem, there are dozens of self-proclaimed professionals on Youtube that show you shortcuts and solutions.
• Great free programs:
Audacity: Free audio editor and recorder
Gimp: Free graphics editing program
Paint.net: Free graphics editing program
Foxit Reader: Free PDF reader. It allows you to write in and copy from read-only PDFs. This is especially useful if you want to copy notes or if you wish to “find” a specific word within the document.
• Great sites for free stock and textures for educational use:
DeviantART.com (Note: Please look under “stock” and “textures”.)
Flickr.com (Note: creative commons search.)
• Great sites for royalty-free music:
Soundcloud.com (Note: creative commons search.)
Playinmusic.com: The site is especially useful if you’re interested in making unique songs and need separate instrumental sounds.

To upcoming freshmen students

Freshman year is perhaps the scariest. You attend every class, predict inevitable failure and struggle to form friendships. There are several tips I wish I would have known when I was a freshman; they would have certainty alleviated the turmoil of class expectations and schoolwork.
1. Make a Calendar. This calendar is preferably a digital one, so that you can make constant changes to it without wasting ink or confusing yourself with various copies. This will help you visualize how cluttered your current and upcoming weeks are, when assignments are due and studying schedules.
2. Never do a study guide the day before an exam. Waiting to the last minute will either ensure that you completely fail or have a mental breakdown as you struggle to memorize content in the late hours of the night. Students have a great inability to properly calculate how long an assignment will take to complete. Save yourself the migraine and do the study guide at least a few days before. Even if you don’t like studying until the night before, have the material finished so that you don’t waste time looking for answers instead of reviewing.
3. Try different studying strategies. The same strategy doesn’t work for everyone and sometimes an individual can use different ones depending on the subject, length of material, and difficulty. Try studying aloud and silently repeating terms in your head; try reviewing a few days and a few hours before the exam. Try different foods and drinks to stay motivated: for some it’s coffee and chocolate chip cookies and for others it’s an iced tea with a Big Mac. The point is to never copy another person’s strategy. You need to find your own so that you feel the most comfortable, relaxed and ready to learn. Of course, this also includes experimenting with different locations and considering studying partners.
4. To laptop or not to laptop? From personal experience, I can tell you that it is possible to pass your classes without a laptop for notes. I’ve written all of my notes and I’ve had professors who breeze through sentences as though they’re late for a marathon. But I have good short-term retention, I write fast (chicken-gibberish but personally legible), and I’ve developed a strategy for recognizing what should be written down and what can be discarded.
Usually, this “University-Sense” develops in your first year. After the first exams you recognize whether professors test on generalities, practicalities, scenarios, or, the most cheek-gnawing, details. I’ve gotten better grades than some of my friends who show up to class with Macs.
In the end, it’s a personal choice. If you can’t resist the temptation to go online don’t bring it; it will only become a distraction. If you can’t afford one but want to use one, university libraries rent out laptops typically for about three hours; just bring an external memory or flash-drive to keep your information.

Free Photo Editing Software

Multimedia courses require students to use audio, video and photo editing software to show diversity, adaptability and proficiency.
Throughout the years, I’ve watched fellow students struggle with these tasks because of their inexperience with Final Cut Express and Photoshop. However, there is a great misconception that buying these programs is the only way to hone your editing skills.
For this post, I’ll concentrate on the photo editing aspect of these courses. You can find great free editing software online. My personal favorite is Gimp. It is entirely free and extremely similar to Photoshop.
You have the concept of layers, filters, multifaceted tools, etc. You can play with this program and create high-quality content that can rival any Photoshop product. Once you feel comfortable navigating through this program or can afford Photoshop, you will find the transition much easier than expected.
Here are a few editing essentials for beginners who have never used an editing program at the level of Gimp.
• Layers: Learn how to make, delete and rename layers. Also, learn how to change the different modes (e.g. multiply, burn, etc.).
• Textures: Apply textures and play with the different layer modes to see the effect on the photo.
• Curves: Learn how to adjust color curves. This step could drastically change the quality of your photo. Note: It is under the “Colors” tab.
• Sharpen: Sharpening the focus of your photo can also drastically change the quality of it. Note: Follow the “Filters” tab and go to the “Enhance” subcategory.
• Flatten Image: Use this step to merge all of your layers together without altering any of the different layer modes in the process. Note: Right click on any layer and then click “Flatten Image”.
These are the most basic steps you will need to know to use this program and edit your photos. If you don’t feel comfortable using creative software, simply following these five steps will ensure that your photo transforms into a more dynamic, clearer-resolution piece.
If you become intimidated by Gimp’s platform, then Paint.net might be a better first step. It provides the same services but not to the same extensive degree. However, the template is simpler and the official site has an entire forum dedicated to tutorials.

Reasonable Budget

Entering a new university or college requires substantial funds. There are expenses for food, books, gas, equipment, lab fees, club fees, supplies, etc.
It is extremely important to determine the best financial strategy by considering your budget, categorizing the indispensible and determining what can be “sacrificed”.
I come from a humble background; my school tuition is entirely paid through scholarships and grants. Below are some tips to keep your expenses to a minimum. Freshman should pay particular attention since the first year is usually the most wasteful.
1. Don’t buy university books. University editions are usually identical to official editions of books.
Alternative sources:- AmazonEBay, and Half.com have extremely affordable print books.
Chegg and other renting services allow you to rent books (for half the cost) rather than buy them.
- E-Books are recently becoming more available; do your research.- Ask fellow students if they’ve taken the class; most students will resell their books at a reasonable price.
- The library usually has a limited amount of necessary books. You have to be quick!
2. Carpool to save gas.
Gas is becoming increasingly expensive and if you don’t live near your university the fixed cost can be staggering. From day one, I carpooled with one of my friends. We’d alternate between weeks to save money and make the ride more enjoyable.
Also, carpooling has its positives. You get a special sticker on your car that allows you to park much closer to buildings and elevators: Universities do this to promote students to be more environmentally friendly. Proximity and exclusivity is especially important because parking can get extremely competitive as the school year progresses.
3. Bring lunch or have a fixed food fund.
Bringing your own food will prevent you from having to buy from the restaurants and food marts at your university. If you don’t have the time to fix your lunch, then have a food budget for the semester. If you don’t calculate the spending, then it is easier to accidently overspend.
4. Before buying supplies, ask professors.
Before buying any books, special journals or lab notebooks ask your professors if you’ll actually need them. The first day of class is usually dedicated to solving these misunderstandings. It is difficult, expensive and sometimes impossible to return these supplies so wait until the first day of class before buying them. My advice is keep them in your online cart, keep the phone numbers handy, and if necessary, make a dash for the library.
5. Be selective with clubs.
Rather than signing up for multiple clubs choose one or two you’re particularly interested in. Consider your schedule and whether you’ll truly be able to take advantage of the opportunities and events the club offers. If making time for these club activities will be difficult, then don’t pay the fee and postpone membership for the next semester.
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