Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Studying online can be a rich and rewarding experience; it can also be frustrating if you do not prepare yourself for the differences between online and classroom-based learning. Here are some questions frequently asked regarding becoming an online learner. Some of the answers here are from questions posted in these courses and other answers were found on the Net.

What is Online Learning?

Online Learning is a Web-based learning environment that enables you and your instructors to interact via a computer, free of time and place constraints. You can engage in learning at any time, and at any place suitable to you (as long as you have a computer with Internet access). This means that you will be able to fit your learning around family, work, and recreational activities.

Will I feel isolated studying on my own?

With most classroom-based (face-to-face or F2F) courses, you have a family of learners that meet together 2–3 times each week in the same classroom and at the same time. Often learners in F2F courses will also see each other outside class time, in the library or in study rooms, and will develop systems of assisting each other with problems.

With online learning this is still possible, but requires more effort. We attempt to alleviate this feeling of isolation in our courses by responding quickly to questions and encouraging the development of a sense of “community” among the learners through the course Discussions area, so they can feel comfortable asking questions that anyone in the community might respond to.

What is the difference between synchronous and asynchronous learning?

You will see these words peppered throughout websites devoted to online learning. Basically, synchronous means “in real time” and asynchronous means “not in real time.” Face-to-face courses in classrooms are synchronous (they happen at the same time every week and everyone is normally present in the classroom) while many online courses are asynchronous (i.e., you can access the course any time you like and can do your work according to your own timetable).

The Weaving the Web courses are all asynchronous. Since we have learners from all over the world in our courses, using a synchronous environment (where everyone would have to log in at the same time) is neither practical nor desirable. Most people who choose our courses do so because they do not have to be in class every Monday night at 7 p.m. but wish to establish their own study timetable.

Other institutions may offer synchronous instructions for some parts of courses using synchronous chat rooms, video conferencing, and even video presentations via television or through online video streaming. While there are upsides to all of these methods of delivery, there are also downsides. Synchronous chat rooms do not work very well except with high-speed Internet connections; video conferencing normally requires that you show up at a local video conferencing center at a specific time on a specific date; and video streaming tends not to be very interactive for the learner.

While all of these technologies have great potential for bringing a real classroom into your living room, most of those who are using these techniques today are doing so on an experimental or research basis. Their true practicality for the average user is probably some years down the road.

What do I need to study online?

If you are planning to study online, you should be able to answer "yes" to the following questions:

  • I have Internet access via an Internet Service Provider (ISP) for a minimum of 4-6 hours per week (this is a general guide only).
  • I have a computer system equipped with a modem or high-speed Internet connection and appropriate software which meets the minimum specifications for the courses I wish to take, as indicated in the course descriptions and the course outlines.
  • I currently have an email address.
  • I have access to a printer (optional).
  • I have a basic understanding of how my computer and Internet browsers work.

In addition you would want to have any textbooks that are listed in the course outlines and descriptions. Most of the Weaving the Web courses do not use textbooks as the course content is provided as downloadable (and printable) PDF (Portable Document Format) files. These files essentially constitute a “textbook” that is specifically written for these courses.

What’s it like to study online?

Studying online is different from studying either on campus or as a regular distance education student where you work with print materials only. The Weaving the Web courses uses the Desire2Learn (D2L) interface to allow you to access various course materials and tools that will make your study more enjoyable and meaningful (there is more on D2L in another FAQ below).

Your D2L course home page for each course functions as a virtual classroom. From there, you can:

  • access the course content as PDF files (which you can either read online or print out to read at your leisure),
  • explore online examples prepared for each course,
  • explore relevant on-line resources,
  • send e-mail messages to your lecturer and/or fellow students,
  • read messages from the lecturer and fellow students,
  • participate in online discussions,
  • submit assignments,
  • and more.

Because the course home pages are dynamic, with new messages being posted and new information regularly added, you need to log on fairly often.

How do I access an online course?

These Weaving the Web courses are delivered using Desire2Learn (D2L), a very popular interface for online courses. Once you have registered for a course, you will be given a username (loginID) and password to log into your courses. Usernames and passwords are case sensitive, so you will need to type them exactly as provided.

Once you have logged into the course site, you will be presented with the main interface — or virtual classroom — for the course. The course interface consists of a number of tools and links that you will use to access your course material and, later, upload your assignments and check your grades.

When you finish a study session in D2L, you need to close (Exit or Quit) your browser. Your browser considers that you are logged on until you close the browser. Even if you have left the D2L course site, it will still log you as a user and remember your password for you until you close your browser. This means that if you leave your computer with your browser still active, someone else may gain access to your course and may be able to send email or take quizzes in your name.

For more on D2L, see another FAQ, below.

What is Desire2Learn?

According to Wikipedia, “Desire2Learn Incorporated” (Desire2Learn or D2L) is a provider of enterprise eLearning solutions and develops online Learning Management Systems (LMS). The company has two subsidiaries (D2L Ltd. and Desire2Learn Australia Pty Ltd.). Desire2Learn has been considered by the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 program amongst the fastest growing technology companies in Canada, and one of the Top 50 Small to Medium Size Employers for 2011. The company was founded in 1999, by President and CEO John Baker (entrepreneur). The company is headquartered in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, and has staff in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia.”

What is expected of me in an online course?

Online classes are mostly asynchronous. That means that students don’t have to be online at the same time. You log on when it is convenient for you, and read and respond to the messages posted by other participants. Many students find that online discussions are more thoughtful and challenging than class discussions on campus because participants have time to think about their responses and compose their ideas, and everyone has the opportunity to participate.

We believe that interaction and discussion are an essential part of the learning experience, so we expect you to:

  • read your e-mail regularly,
  • respond to e-mail quickly, and
  • participate in discussion groups.

What must I remember about being an online student?

To be a good online student you need to be:

  • Organised and well motivated: You will have to set aside time on a regular basis to log on to your course websites, read and study, prepare your assignments, and participate in online discussions.
  • Computer literate: You don’t have to be a computer expert, you just need to know the basics, like how to use a Web browser, how to use a CD-ROM (for some courses), and how to use a modem to connect to the Internet. It will also help with your assignment preparation in some courses if you know how to use a word processor. One benefit of studying online is that even if your skills are a little rusty at the start, by the time you’ve finished your certificate you will be an expert at communicating online.
  • Capable of being patient: You will be fairly dependent on your computer, your modem, and your ISP, and there will probably be times when the technology will let you down. In such a situation, you need to be able to keep your cool until things are back on track.

Should I be worried about eyestrain when studying online with a computer?

Workers who spend long period of time every day working at a computer do complain about eyestrain. To keep this problem to a minimum, set your browser so that the typeface and typesize are large and clear enough to avoid eyestrain. We recommend a sans-serif (literally “no feet”) font for screen viewing set to 12 or 14 point size (common sans-serif fonts are Verdana, Geneva, Helvetica, and Arial). You can use the View or Preferences menus on your browser to increase or decrease font sizes.

Also, spread your study over several short periods during a day if you can. If you can avoid spending more than one hour at a time in front of your computer, this will help avoid eyestrain.

Can I print my study material instead of viewing it online?

In most cases this is possible and, perhaps, desirable since you can study from some other location than your computer desk. All of the PDF (Portable Document Format) files that contain the course notes can be printed, and many of the related Web pages can as well. It can be expensive as many of our sets of notes are as large as a medium-sized textbook, so your tutor always takes his files to a local service bureau and has them printed there for a cost that is far below what you might spend on your own printer ink and paper. This charge can be as little as 3 cents per page, these days.

Also note that if you are printing browser text that is presented in a frame, you will need to click in the frame you want to print before you select “print frame” from your browser’s File menu.

What browser should I be using?

Since the Weaving the Web courses deal specifically with Web design, you should have the latest versions of the most popular browsers — Firefox, Internet Explorer (PC only), Safari, and Google Chrome — residing on your system so that you can check the display of your pages. Since many users do not yet use the latest versions of the browsers, it may also be important to have earlier versions available so that you can check the display.

How can I assure that I will succeed in online courses?

Online learning requires self-discipline and the responsibility for this falls on you as the student. The following key points will help you studying successfully online:

  • Be committed and build your study around fixed time commitments — make yourself a timetable and stick to it (it is your timetable, not ours).
  • Be realistic when planning your study time and consider which time of day you are most alert. Some people prefer to work early in the morning while others prefer to work late into the night.
  • Make time to study every day. Don’t study the day the assignment is due. That can make you very frustrated.
  • Study in short bursts to ensure you remain focused and remember to take short breaks every hour.
  • Make sure that you set realistic study goals.
  • Review your work at the end of each study period to ensure you have achieved your goals.

Succeeding in an online course is no different than succeeding in a classroom. You still must:

  • focus your attention,
  • be organized,
  • use your time wisely,
  • take responsibility for your learning,
  • be self-directed,
  • be willing to work and participate, and
  • communicate effectively.

Today’s courses are making a shift from the passive learner model, where students sit quietly in the classroom, to the active learner model, where students interact and collaborate with one another. What does this mean for you? It means that participation is essential for everyone involved.

Can you give me some tips on time management?

Time management is, perhaps, even more important for online courses than in classroom courses, since you establish your own timetable in online courses, and must stick to it. What we know from research is that there is usually an adjustment period for most students as they learn the rhythm and patterns of online communication. In the Weaving the Web series, we have found that some students in the first course have trouble with time management but, as they take more advanced courses, they have learned to solve this problem. The earlier you can solve the time management issue, the more enjoyable and rewarding this experience will be for you.

Here are some tips for getting comfortable with online learning:

  • Take time to review the available help files and documentation.
  • Spend some time just navigating your way through the class — learn the functions of the buttons on your screen.
  • Manage your time. You’ll find that your time management skills will be critical in an online class. It’s very easy to spend either far too little time or far too much time on the class. Set designated blocks of time to work on the course. This will help you stay current with the assignments and with the interaction required in most on-line classes.
  • Download or print out pages for reference and review when you’re offline.
  • Set priorities and pay close attention to what your instructor says about priorities. Check the calendar and/or course outline frequently for assignments, quizzes, etc.
  • Ask for help right away if something isn’t going right, whether it’s a technical issue or something to do with the course content. Remember, “the only stupid question is the one that is not asked.”

Don’t forget about the tried and true technologies: the telephone and fax machine. If you are experiencing any problems you can always pick up the telephone or turn on your fax machine and connect with your instructor, other class members, or the student help line, which has a toll-free number for those of you outside the Vancouver area — see Support for Online Courses - D2L.

How do I get started with a new course?

Spending some in the first week familiarizing yourself with the course and course components can save you time later on. Here are some tips to assist you with this:

  • Read any documentation sent to you (introductory letters, notes on logons and passwords, user manuals etc.) before doing anything.
  • Read the course outline first. Pay particular attention to any material that is required and also assignment due dates. Mark these on your calendar.
  • Many of the Weaving the Web courses have a “Start Here” button or a “Getting Started” section. This is one of the first D2L tools you should access and here you will get more specific information about the course, and be able to download course notes and example files.
  • Find out how to get in touch with your instructor. What is his/her e-mail address and/or telephone number? Remember, if you have questions about the course or course content contact your instructor. This information is normally contained in the “Course Outline” document as well as in the “Contacts, Schedules, and Assignments” document.
  • Look for the course schedule in the course. It could be posted in the calendar or in the course outline.
  • Quickly scan your text, manual, or any reading materials. Are there questions or quizzes at the end of each chapter? How could these help you when you start studying for an assignment?
  • Find out the structure of the course. Do you have self-tests to complete? Are you expected to participate in discussions? How much participation is expected? Is participation graded and if so, how?

What do you mean by "online communication" and "communities"?

There are two tools for online communication in the Weaving the Web courses — the Discussions area and Course Mail.

The Course Mail facility in D2L allows you and the instructor to communicate with each other; or you can also communicate with other students that you have grown to know. All message here are private.

The Discussion area is where the learning community can really be established. Many learners will post questions in Course Mail to the instructor because they feel that posting that question publicly in the Discussion Group will reflect negatively on them in the class. This is simply not the case, in our experience. Your instructors tend to get the same questions posted by various learners in Course Mail until we eventually suggest that the learner post the answer in the public Discussions Area. Always remember that learning online is a collaborative effort — we learn from each other (I learn something new from my students almost every day).

As always, effective communication is critical to success. It’s even more important in the online environment because your instructor and the other class members can’t see your frown or hear the question in your voice. Here you’ll be responsible for initiating contact, asking for help when needed, and sharing information with others. In this new online community you no longer have all those non-verbal cues that you get in the physical classroom. What you still have, however, is the practice of courtesy and respect that apply in all classrooms. Here are some guidelines:

Participate: In the online environment it’s not enough to show up. We need to hear your voice and feel your presence. Your comments add to the information, the shared learning experience, and the sense of community in each class.

Be persistent: Remember that most of you are working in a fairly new environment. If you run into any difficulties, don’t hesitate. Send a note or call your instructor or the Student Help Desk immediately. Most problems are easily solved, but we must hear from you before we can help.

Here are two general rules we follow in these courses:

  • “The only stupid questions are those that are not asked,” and
  • KISS — “Keep it simple, student.” In either case, the simplest way is often the best way.

Share tips, help, and questions: For many of us, taking online courses is a new frontier. There are no dumb questions. Even if you think your solution is obvious, please share it — someone will appreciate it.

Think before you push the Send button: Did you say just what you meant? How will the person on the other end read the words? While you can’t anticipate all reactions, do read over what you’ve written before you send it. I have often wished there were a “retract” button in e-mail. How about you?

Remember that we can’t see your reactions: We can’t see the grin on your face when you make a sarcastic comment. We can’t see the concern on your face if you only say a couple of words. We also can’t read your mind and fill in the gaps if you abbreviate your comments. You must be clear and concise when communicating online. Explain your ideas fully.

What are some general rules to follow in online learning?

Try these:

  • Plan your study schedule carefully, allowing enough time for studying, working on assignments, projects, and preparation for tests and exams.
  • Develop the self-discipline to follow your plan through.
  • Proactively participate in discussions, learn from other students through interaction, foster a group learning environment from which everyone will benefit.
  • Get support and encouragement from you family and loved ones, enlist the help from your family in setting your goals and achieving them, balance your study carefully with your work and family lives.
  • Make good use of the Internet as a learning resource, use the Internet as a large reference library to find journals, articles, news reports, etc., and share your findings with classmates.