Recently, I was skimming an article on the dangers of cheating services for online classes (What can I say? I like to know what my students might be doing...), and the author gave some alternatives to abusing online classes for people who tended to stress about them. That got me thinking: Are students aware that there is help available to them? Do they know that there are other options besides resorting to cheating in an online class? Many students feel as if there is no other option; they are too stressed with deadlines, life factors, and unrealistic goals to consider the options available to them in helping them succeed throughout their college career. As a TA, observing college freshmen has become a full-time hobby for me, and the reason is not just professional.
As I watch these younger students struggle with their new-found freedom and coursework, I'm reminded of all the practical information that they should receive during their first year in higher education. I've never been one for abstract thinking; to me, there needs to be a practical purpose behind everything we do in college. When students begin to advance in their educational journey, online classes become an increasingly popular way to continue college classwork while seemingly taking the "easy" road. While you don't have to be in a physical classroom, online classes, however, can still be stressful. The simple lack of teacher-student interaction can put certain students at a disadvantage, especially if the student does better in a physical classroom. Cheating in an online class can seem like a gigantic help if the student sees no other way of being successful in the class. Being the practical person that I am, I've compiled a list of things students might do instead of resorting to the act that will haunt them for the rest of their college career.
1. Ask a professor/instructor for advice.
Students are painfully unaware at times of just how much they should ask for help/advice when it comes to the online college classroom. Most are afraid of looking incompetent and risk getting the help they need. Here's a secret, however: Professors are here to help you. The majority of them want you to ask questions and to feel comfortable seeking help. Don't understand a discussion group? Ask for help. Can't figure out where to post an assignment? Ask for help. Not 100% sure what the professor is wanting from a certain paper? Ask for help. Nine times out of ten, they'll be incredibly glad that you asked. An effort is extremely appreciated in higher education.
2. Make sure you absolutely have to have this particular online course.
Many students make the mistake of taking an online class so it'll be "easier" on them. In a way, it's completely understandable. I've done that myself. However, I've never backed myself into a corner when it comes to the assignments. I know my limit and I don't exceed it. Too many students sign up for an online class and are blown away by the sheer amount of reading or writing. This makes them stressed, puts them behind, and can ultimately lead to cheating in some form or fashion. If you don't need this particular class, don't sign up for it. Know your limits and what you are capable of at this point in your education.
3. Don't be afraid to drop the class.
This particular piece of advice could scare some students away. Drop a class? I would never! Hear me out: Instead of struggling and stressing and cheating to stay afloat, just drop the class. Recognize that this isn't the best situation for you. So many students struggle with when to finish college; they are so worried about a specific timeline for their life that they can resort to things that hurt them in the long run. Personally, it took me 14 years to complete my undergraduate degree. I had a kid, worked in the real world for a bit, and then was able to finish. One great thing I learning from the experience? There's no need to rush. I'd rather give 100% and do my very best work than rush myself through the biggest undertaking of my life.
While there are other ways to help students navigate the online education waters, these tips are just a few of the ways that students can take a deep breath and hopefully put some thought into their educational decisions.