Structure of an Online Classroom

A Typical Online Learning Environment

What should you expect to see once you've logged on to your online classroom?
A typical online classroom will have a log-on screen. Once logged in, you will see icons, folders, conferences, or something similar representing areas for your online classroom. These icons will house specific items, such as a class schedule, syllabus, lectures, announcements, and the like. The icons can be folders, conference areas, or something similar that gives you access into your online classroom and all materials that you will need for each specific course. Only the course or courses you are currently enrolled in will be present for immediate access.

A typical online classroom might look like the following but does not have to include all of these items or may have similar items using different names. However, the basics are the same no matter what online program you get into.

*Ask Questions

The Ask Questions area is an area to post any class question during the timeframe of the course you are currently enrolled in.

*Assignment Drop box or Student Portfolio

Student drops (uploads and downloads) assignments for grading and then for feedback from instructor. Students do not have access to other student's drop box area, only their own.

*Area

You might be present only in an audit capacity so you would have limited access to specific areas of the learning management system and course area.

*Bio

Students usually post a short biographical data sheet about him/herself to the class so that classmates get to know something about you. The professor will also do the same. Some online universities allow for a specific area where the bios remain separate throughout the full course and others just have them posted to a bio area or conference area specific for bios. Again, this varies by university set-up.

*Case Studies

Area for case studies and discussion if the professor uses items such as this in the course.

*Change Password

Area for student to change his/her password into the learning management system.

*Chat Room

An area set aside for real-time chat sessions for the class, specific groups and/or class and instructor. Sometimes these are mandatory and some are not. Be sure you know upfront what is mandatory and not mandatory. Chat sessions, if mandatory, mean that you must be online at a certain time and date, regardless of what else you might be doing. This could be an imposition on you and whatever time zone you might be in at the time.

*Chat Logs

Area where all chats are recorded during the timeframe of the course so that if you miss a chat session (if these are a mandatory requirement for the course) then you can go back and find the chat session you might have missed and know what material was actually covered during that missed session.

*Class Announcement or Need to Know Area

This is an area where daily and weekly announcements are noted for you. Any item that the university or professor feels the students in the course should know, will be posted to this area. It is your responsibility to check this daily. Otherwise, you could miss critical data and deadlines.

*Class Content

This is where all class content materials will be housed, such as the course lectures, syllabus, articles, etc. Note, all course materials could also be separated out and an area specific to the syllabus could be used. However, many online universities will keep like items in an area to avoid confusion. You might also find specific items here related to helpful hints and tips for your success, or tips for using a specific platform, or similar items that a professor might think will aid you during the course. Be sure to read these items, they are there for your benefit and will guide you through the course and program of study. Be sure to keep these on your desktop especially while enrolled in the program of study, as you will want access to these later. Trust me!

*Class Lounge

Area for students to relax and talk about anything not related to the course, or if you want, you can still discuss course-related items, but this area is off-limits to discussion and grading so whatever is posted here does not pertain to gaining points for grading purposes. Some learning management systems now utilize this area for all classes going on at the same time to talk amongst themselves. This could be limited to just current sections of one course, or all courses currently going on. It varies depending upon the university. The class lounge is a great asset to students where you can discuss frustrations and the like or get to know your classmates better.

*Class Members

List of class members present during the class. This could also include email addresses, picture and a short bio.

*Class Schedule

Shows the actual schedule for the class you are currently enrolled in and what assignments are due when (gives specific dates, times, etc).

*Discussion Area

This is the weekly discussion area (threads) where participation is required. It could be separated out by week or all in one for the full length of the course. This will vary upon the set-up of the institution's LMS.

*Email

Some online universities will provide you with an actual email address in their learning management system, others will not. You must have email in order to participate in online courses with your classmates or instructor. Some online universities will archive all data, including emails.

*Evaluation Forms or Assessment Area

Toward the end of any course you should have an evaluation form to complete for the course you are currently in. It is a good idea to complete the evaluation form. Some universities require you to complete it and some do not. Most universities do take the evaluation form seriously. It allows you, the student, the opportunity to tell what you liked about the course, what you did not like, evaluate the professor, and also, to let the university know what your thoughts are on the course materials (i.e., the text). Take the time to complete this form. Suggestion here, do not slam the professor when you did not follow directions but got mad and took it out on the professor because you ended up with a grade lower than your expectations. Remember, if you do not put in an "A" effort, do not expect an "A". Also, if you failed to follow directions that were outlined in the course, do not slam the professor for your mistakes. Take ownership here. After all, you are an adult student.

*Events

Shows what type of virtual events you might consider, or need to be aware of, and/or could participate in. Usually not a part of the actual class requirement, but instead, events related to the university that you could participate in.

*Exams

You might have a specific area for midterms, quizzes, and final exams. It will all depend upon how the online university (LMS) is set up for these items. Not all online universities will give exams; others will and might not even utilize the online format for them. If the online learning management system is not used for exams and the like, you will probably have to attend the campus or a specific proctored location to take the exam. Certain platforms allow all quizzes and exams to be taken online. Usually then you will find they are timed and usually housed in an infrastructure that has several security checks in place meaning it does not allow cheating. This should be spelled out in the directions of the exam area so that you are well aware of what constitutes cheating up front in that particular system. An example here might be that you are in the exam system completing an exam, and you decide to cheat and open another window, there could be a security check here that prevents you from doing this and will close you out of the exam because you tried to cheat by opening up another window, resulting in a zero. Be aware of the policies and how exams and quizzes are administered prior to your decision on which online university to attend.

*Grades

Area where all grades are posted with each assignment for student access. Usually the professor will have access to also post feedback per assignment per student. Other notes to the student might also be noted here. Students will have access only to their grade, not anyone else's.

*Log-out

It is up to you to log-out of your learning management system or classroom once you are finished. It is a good practice or habit to get into. Be sure you save all materials prior to logging out.

*Home

Home page for university learning management system.

*Main Campus

Main campus for your specific student access.

*Program Schedule

Shows what courses you are required to take in your program of study.

*Reserved Readings

Articles for class discussion could be housed here.

*Study Groups

Area for study groups per course where each study group will have an area to discuss the project or assignment they must complete and its daily/weekly progression.

*Tech Support

Be sure that whatever online university you enroll in that there is a technical support number available to you 24-hours per day, 7-days per week. You might want to check this out prior to registering into any online program to also be sure it is legitimate. Please do not think this is noted to scare you, but some universities will state that they have technical support available to you as per the above, but in reality do not. Most universities are true to their word. However, by experience I have learned that not all online universities, unfortunately, follow-through on what they actually state they have done and are doing. It is better to be sure before hand rather than during or after ward and then it is too late.

*Textbooks

Some online universities have gone to the online text format, which is fantastic, but many students want their textbooks in print so that they can go back and re-read something, or take the text with them wherever they go instead of having to take the time to read the text or whatever the requirement is at the time, online. Some universities that have the online text format will also allow you to download the text and print it out. I would caution you here. If you do this, who is paying for the printer cartridge and the paper for you printing out the required text? There is usually a cost involved with online texts that you pay upfront with the university and you may not realize this. However, that cost does not cover you printing out the text yourself or the ink and paper being used. Therefore, you should be aware of this prior to your online course.

*Threads

Threading occurs as responses are added to other responses (posts) in a topical discussion. This is where learning takes place in the online classroom and can be seen in the form of threading. Threading comes about as students respond to each other's posts (responses) to the discussion question or topic for discussion. It works in a similar format as emails but without the delay. Once the post (response) has been submitted in the discussion area, it appears in the classroom discussion area under the post (response) where the post was made. This builds a thread. Threading builds upon other students posts and looks like a thread where the responses are interlocked to the other diagonally. The longer the thread (the more diagonal it is) the more interest in the particular topic.

*Tutorials

You should have access to some sort of tutorial about the platform being used throughout the timeframe of the program of study in case there are problems that occur. This alleviates fear and frustration about the platform area. Other tutorials should also exist, for instance, a plagiarism tutorial to remind you of what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.

*Webliography

A list of web-related resources available throughout the course.

In addition to the above, there should be an area on the university's web page that lists what system requirements you must have in order to gain access into their online learning environment (the learning management system which encompasses your online program or class). Be sure you have what is stated and if you have any questions, ask before you enroll. Most online universities require that you have a computer available to you at home for your school use. Some universities will allow you to use their on ground computer labs to attend your online courses. However, depending upon where you are located, this might not be a choice. You must also be sure you have some sort of an Internet connection at all times in order to attend any online course. You are held accountable once you enroll into an online class (program).

I would caution you here though to be sure that the online university has an online system in place that is stable and does not drop you offline every so many seconds. This is extremely frustrating and will make you wish you never enrolled into any online course. It will make you detest the online learning environment when in fact, you could really love it, but because of the frustrations of being dropped you end up not having the patience to enjoy it.

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