Excel in Online Education

Whether you're a novice or an old hand at completing degrees and training online, here are some practical tips to help you excel in online courses.

Photo courtesy of Joseph SaittaPhoto courtesy of Joseph Saitta

Whether you're a novice or an old hand at completing degrees and training online, here are some practical tips to help you excel in online courses.

Time Management: Regardless of the subject you plan to complete, start by listing all of the due dates for readings and projects. It doesn't make any difference whether you use a paper copy or an electronic version of a calendar, but the safest course of action is to use both. Also, backdate your deadlines for the important assignments. For example, if a research paper is due in 45 days, you would list that deadline, plus several incremental steps leading to the completion of the paper. At Day 5 you'd have a notation for the completion of the outline, and so on. And, yes, indicate when you'll study, too…then do it.

Honing your time management efforts includes determining your most productive work time. Some of us are morning people by nature; others are not. Arrange to complete online assignments when you're most energized and have the fewest interruptions.

Research Subjects: There is a relationship between selecting a research subject and determining the "hot" trends in criminal justice. Now, some trends are no longer novel, such as the addition of homeland security to an agency's mission. At this point a great deal of research has already been done on how to implement homeland security programs. Not so with cyber security. Most departments still predominantly focus on Internet crimes such as trolling pedophiles, online financial scams, and identity theft. It's more unusual for agencies to focus on emerging issues such as agency infrastructure protection. Thus, this would still be a subject with research potential.

Another way to locate emerging trends is to attend public safety conferences and read the field's professional publications, such as POLICE Magazine.

Requirements: Producing excellent content is only part of the job in online coursework. Using the correct format, even in discussion board postings, is critical to your success. Further, if the program you're completing requires a research project the very first step is to spend some quality time reading the project requirements. These should clearly specify the format; the preferred content and restrictions (for example, obtaining agency approval to cover "law enforcement sensitive" content); reference citation requirements;  word count; how, when, and where you submit the project; and a description of the grading method.

After you have finished reviewing the requirements, if you still are unclear about any part of them, immediately ask your instructor for a clarification.

Reference citation methods sometimes trip up otherwise excellent students. Ensure that you know the specific reference citation method to be used. Most often you will be asked to use the guidelines of the American Psychological Association (APA), the Modern Language Association (MLA), the Chicago Manual of Style, or Turabian's Manual used. However, some online courses may require the use of guides as diverse as the Associated Press Stylebook or the U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual. Fortunately, there are several online editing resources to assist you, including free ones.

Online Discussions: All too often online students don't use one of the best resources easily available to them: other students. If you have access to some type of discussion board, then post on it, ask questions, and respond to other students' questions. Just remember, discussion boards often have requirements as to grammar, length of posting, etc.

Another way to enrich your knowledge is to make use of a mentor—someone local or even online who has expertise in the subject. You will accomplish several things: gain knowledge, build your professional network, perhaps you'll even find a kindred spirit to guide you. Successful people often describe the importance of mentors to their success. Of course, an additional excellent online resource is your instructor.

Document the Project: Back to that research project again; there are many ways to complete a document. One that has worked for many people is the use of the "POWER" formula.

First, you Pre-write. This involves gathering information, locating reference material, and reading the collected materials. Next, you Organize. Determine your main and subordinate points, align supporting materials with subordinate points, and develop a working outline. After that you are ready to Write the document. Now, many people edit as they are writing, but if you haven't done that—or even if you have—the next step is to Edit the document. Check grammar, punctuation, and spelling as well as format for correctness. And, the last step: Re-write, as needed. These simple steps will help you in completing your online projects.

All of the foregoing tips should maximize your online learning. Good luck!

Dr. Joseph V. Saitta is the program director, criminal justice, at Columbia Southern University. He is a retired bioterrorism coordinator, former federal agent, and a retired deputy sheriff.

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