Taking an Online Course

Some courses are considered “independent learning” courses. Students taking independent learning online courses work through the course materials at their own pace still completing by the deadline—independent of anyone else enrolled in the same course.

Other online courses are more like traditional on-campus classes requiring posting to discussions and interacting with other students in the class.

Regardless of the format used, there is always an instructor to guide the learning process. Each course is carefully designed to best facilitate the learning that needs to take place. Your instructor can provide you with the best information about how your course will be conducted.

Don’t feel that all the work must be done at the computer. You may find it helpful to download or print out pages so that you can refer to them at other times.

Look for alternate ways of handling the course in case your computer breaks down.

Time Commitment

No driving to class! Do your work anytime, anywhere, at your own pace. Sounds great and it IS a big advantage of online courses, but if you have time management issues, are a crammer or procrastinator, it may be a challenge for you to buckle down and get the work done on time.

We all plan on trying harder, being more organized, spending more time on school work. But if that is not already typical of your approach to school work, you may find due dates slip by before you notice it. While it is easy to get behind … it can be very hard to catch up!

Most students find that an online class requires the same or more time as a traditional on-campus course for them to be successful. Therefore, you should expect to spend the same time per course that you would if you were taking a normal on-campus course in terms of class preparation.

Your course work will include readings, regular assignments, writing papers, and participating in discussions through the online course discussion boards. Discussions are usually asynchronous (not occurring at the same time) but could also be synchronous (discussions occurring at the same time), depending on the class and instructor. What actually takes more time is the participation in these discussions since, unlike in traditional on-campus classes, you will be spending time typing your input and reading other students' postings. However, these discussions have the advantage of allowing everyone to participate as much as they like and have time to form and express their thoughts.

Many experts believe a person should commit six to nine hours each week for a three-credit class. While “seat time” is not mandated, what you get out of the course is related to how much you put into it. Expect online classes to take more time and energy than regular classes.

Online courses allow flexibility in scheduling, but require strong motivational and organizational skills.

Study Habits

Online classes are convenient and flexible but students have to be disciplined enough to make time to study and participate.

Successful online students are able to:

  • Login regularly to their classes (multiple times per week, and even every day).
  • Plan ahead to ensure they have enough time to study and complete assignments.
  • Not put off studying, and rarely procrastinate.
  • Take notes as they study.
  • Communicate in writing and enjoy reading the writing of others.
  • Work with others via email and chat to complete projects.
  • Send questions to your instructors when problems arise.
  • Share your ideas and carefully consider your responses to others.
  • Be prepared to have your ideas challenged occasionally.


Review this Netiquette article to familiarize yourself with Internet etiquette.

Rate your online manners, Take The Netiquette Quiz.

Communicating With Your Instructor

Your Hawkeye instructor will be your guide and facilitator for the online course. You should contact your instructor any time you have questions about the course, assignments, exams, or would like clarification of any information in your textbook. Your instructor is here to assist and guide you to successful completion of the course.

It is essential to maintain regular contact with your instructor. Ask your instructor for tips that may apply specifically to the course. If you have any questions or you are unsure about how to begin, ask your instructor right away to avoid getting behind in class.

Hawkeye’s online instructors use a variety of means to communicate with you including:

  • Paper-based letters
  • Telephone
  • Email
  • Online discussion forums
  • Collaborative learning
  • Face-to-face meetings
  • Conferencing software

As each course is developed, your instructor selects interaction strategies that meet the needs of the specific course. Not all of the above means are used in all courses.

When you take a course in a traditional face-to-face classroom, you can ask your instructor a question and receive an immediate response. Likewise, you can turn in assignments and know the status of them with some certainty. If there is any question about whether or not your instructor received your assignment or when you will get it back, you can raise that question in class and, again, receive an immediate response.

Online education, with its typical lack of face-to-face interaction, makes this process a little trickier. You can still ask your instructor questions through letters, email, telephone, or other means. But often the responses are not immediate. Instructors are not sitting next to their telephones or computers waiting for questions to come through.

However, your instructors are available on a regular basis and are able to respond to your questions and concerns in a timely manner. As an online student, you simply need to become familiar with your instructor's schedule and availability so that you can know when to expect responses to your questions and feedback on your work. Please refer to your course syllabus to learn when your instructor is available and how to contact them.

Submitting Assignments and Receiving Feedback

Throughout your educational career, you have no doubt been given a wide variety of assignments, from completing worksheets and term papers to preparing presentations. You will encounter the same variety of assignments in your online course. The only real difference is how you submit them to your instructor.

When taking a course online, it is usually difficult to hand your professor your term paper or give a presentation live in front of the rest of the class. In such cases, there is just an alternative way to meet the same goal. For example, you might mail your term paper or attach it to an email to your instructor. You might videotape your presentation and send it to your instructor. For each assignment, you will receive specific instructions for how that assignment is to be turned in. In many cases you will be offered more than one option for submitting your work.

After the assignment has been received it will be graded and the feedback shared with you. Again, the only difference is the way in which you’ll receive feedback. The instructor for the course will let you know how you will receive your grades.

Remember there is a real instructor; you will be able to ask questions about the feedback you receive.


Your online course may use many of the same methods for evaluation that are used in on-campus courses including self-check exercises, quizzes, exams, papers, projects, and even monitoring class participation. A few examples are:

  • Paper-based exams that are taken in the presence of an approved proctor at a testing center.
  • Course projects that you may work on as part of a team.
  • Research papers that you present online by posting them to the course website.
  • Virtual lab experiments.
  • Participation in small group discussions.
  • Self-check activities that help make sure you are comprehending the course material.
  • Online quizzes and exams: The questions on online quizzes and exams may be able to be scored immediately. If there are essay or short answer questions, you may have to wait for the instructor to manually grade those questions before a score will appear in the gradebook. Students are often enthusiastic about being able to use their book and notes on tests, but beware! Quizzes and exams may be timed and unless you study the material and practice the skills, you may find online testing to be very challenging. It is not a good idea to plan to look up every answer, because you will typically run out of time before you finish answering all the questions.

Each instructor will let you know what is expected of you in their course.

Hawkeye’s policies concerning academic honesty and integrity apply to online courses as they would for any on-campus course. You are expected to submit your original work.

Review the Student Handbook to learn your rights and responsibilities.

Distance Learning

Dean of Online Learning

Robin Galloway
Tama Hall 110A
Email me

Hawkeye Canvas Assistance

Bremer Hall 127
Email us

Canvas Support Hotline


You can also use the Help link found in the upper right corner of Canvas anytime you are logged in.

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