A personal account of survival online

By Sarah Terry


The story of how I managed an online class involves tears, all-nighters, and frantic e-mailing one minute before a due date, but in the end, fond memories.

I signed up for a course called Wired Literature, for several reasons. It involved reading and writing, two of my favorite things to do, and it was online, meaning I wouldn't have to show up to class and listen to a lecture.

At the time, the class seemed like an easy way to improve my average. I now have a respect for online courses arising from the true discipline I have learned they require.

One "meeting" (another way of saying class, put lightly so as not to deter those thinking they were getting off easy) was all that was required before we were sent out into the dangerous territory that was our first unsupervised academic venture.

Whether we were there to be reassured that our teacher was a real person, or he actually wanted to let us know what we were up against, I couldn't say. He was probably trying to tell us how to manage our time, but, with the cocky self-assurance that would condemn me later, I didn't listen.

The course outline we were given seemed innocent enough, describing one assignment and a posting on the class message board every week.

This outline was promptly stuffed into the backpack and did not resurface until I was forced to pick through my locker when school was over. Having spent many nights that semester making deals with fate for this specific piece of paper, it was a painful thing to have to throw away.

Two weeks passed after the "meeting" without a thought towards the work I was required to do. It felt natural to subconsciously downgrade the importance of the class, since I was not physically attending, but, when I realized I was already a week behind, I got right to work.

This was when I came to a realization that would cause me to lose time in the future and agonize over every single letter I would submit: everyone in the class could see my assignments. I could see theirs, too.

This can be a very helpful tool for students but when you are rushing an assignment, the fear of writing something unsatisfactory pales beside the fear of writing something unsatisfactory and the whole class seeing it.

That night was a long one, but I got through it, and decided to plan the content of every piece or writing I submitted beforehand.

I was informed in the weekly reminder that it was time to get a partner for two projects that would take the entire year to complete. Since I had not seen my course outline in weeks I hadn't known this in advance. Everyone that I knew well, or even recognized in that first "meeting" was partnered up.

I sent out e-mails to everyone in the class who was still available, and finally got a reply from a student at another campus agreeing to be my partner.

This mysterious person was never to be heard from again.

Despite repeated attempts to contact her, I was left to do these projects individually at a time when most final assignments were due for my other classes.

I had been shocked into panic and abandoned. I felt there was nothing that I would not be prepared for in the remainder of the semester. This was until I took the final exam. The exam, like the weekly tests, were multiple-choice format and done on the school's server.

This meant that they were essentially open book tests, as you could access any of the material while you were completing them. From the time you signed into the test, your allotted hour to complete it began, and if you signed back out again, the timer did not stop.

The problem was not the test itself, but the fact that I had not allowed myself enough time to account for problems. Had I chosen to complete the test the day before the due date, or perhaps earlier on the day of the due date than I actually did, I would not be remembering the terror I experienced quite so vividly.

The problems occurred in the next to last question of the test, when my computer whined and gave up. You may think I am exaggerating the situation for dramatic effect, but truly, this was a serious dilemma.

An hour later found me in tears next to the computer. My time was up. The only avenue left to me was to appeal to my teacher, the wise oracle who had warned of this event from the first day. Thankfully, he had mercy on me and reposted the test for myself and a few other unfortunates.

This class taught me more about myself than any other I have taken. When I think back on it now, it made me realize the true meaning of planning ahead. It showed me how beneficial online resources like a class message board can be for students.

In the future, I wouldn't blame technological malfunctions for my own procrastination. And, believe me, if your teacher says he has a student who comes to him with the same problem every year, he probably does.

Modified on April 23, 2009