How to Succeed in This Course by Really Trying

by Dr. Megan Barnhart Sethi

Take Responsibility for Your Own Learning

Taking a course online is very different from taking a traditional, face-to-face course. The key philosophy in online learning is that you are the one responsible for what you do, or don't, learn. In online courses, instructors don’t just dispense knowledge while you passively sit there. Instead, since the instructor is not present all the time, you have to explore resources and information yourself. You have to actively participate in discussions and learn from your classmates as well as your instructor. Instead of asking yourself what the instructor is going to teach you, ask yourself what you are going to learn.

Plan Ahead and Manage Your Time

Planning your study and "in-class" time is essential to success. SNHU's online courses are fast-moving and very demanding, generally requiring 20 hours per week of your time. There's a great deal of reading and several other activities in each Learning Module. You are also required to contribute an initial post and two substantive responses to your classmates' posts in the Discussion Forums each week.


Plan a specific "block" of time on several days throughout the week. Trying to "cram it all in" on the weekend will affect your grade – because you won't be processing and thinking about the class material throughout the week.


I know that all of you probably have other things going on in your lives besides this course – work responsibilities, family commitments, financial worries, etc. While I strive to be sensitive to these concerns and flexible, you should also be aware that part of making the choice to further your education involves making your classes (whether onsite or online) a priority.

Participate, Communicate, and Ask Questions

How much you enjoy this course and how successful it becomes is dependent at least in part upon you. In an online course, there is no “hiding in the back of the class.” Get to know your classmates. Look for people who have similar ideas and then look for people who may see things from an entirely different perspective. Take the opportunity to "build your classroom" through your posts and involvement. Everyone in the class shares an equal responsibility for interaction and engagement.


To make sure you keep up your participation levels, log on to your course at least 5 to 6 times a week, but ideally once every day. Your classmates will be adding to the discussion each day, and missing several days in a row will make it difficult to adequately participate. Asking questions shows that you are taking an active role in your education by trying to understand each concept fully.


Also, important and time-sensitive information is sent to your SNHU email in "real time" (as it happens). Be sure to check your SNHU email at least once daily – preferably twice!

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Since these classes are asynchronous (meaning that we are not online at the same time), it's often difficult to know if you don't understand something or have a question.  Use SNHU Email or the General Question Forum of the Discussion Board to ask about anything you don't understand or want to clarify. I'll be glad to look at advance drafts of your papers and offer general comments before you turn them in. If you have little experience with "college writing," or want to get an opinion from professional writing tutors, please take advantage of SmartThinking, SNHU's online writing lab. If you're having technical difficulties, contact the Help Desk -- they've always been able to help me when something doesn't function correctly.


Because I am well aware that most of you probably have a lot going on in your lives besides this course, and because I want to help you succeed, I am very willing to respond to requests for help or extensions on assignments. But I cannot help you if I am unaware of the problem. If you find yourself struggling and missing deadlines, don’t wait until Module 7 or 8 to approach me – at that point, there’s very little I can do, and it’s fundamentally unfair to your fellow classmates who did manage to turn in their assignments on time.

Read Actively and Take Notes

If it has been awhile since you have been in school, you may have to retrain yourself to read actively. When most people sit down to read something, they dive in headfirst and keep going until they finish it. This is okay when you are reading something for pleasure, but when you are reading to understand information and retain knowledge, a different approach is required. Here is a step-by-step method for active reading that you may wish to follow

When faced with a new situation or new information, the brain automatically tries to connect it to what you already know. We are like detectives, in that we need to understand the big picture – the context – before we know what the details mean. Start each reading assignment with a quick reconnaissance of the pages you are assigned. Play the role of a detective and search for clues – note the major headings, subheadings, keywords, and graphics. If you want, write down the title, paragraph headings, and important topics in the form of an outline or a diagram. Go through the assignment and pick out the headings and subheadings and anything else that piques your interest. Put these topics in the form of questions. Looking for the answers to these questions while you read will help make the assignment more relevant to you and more interesting.

Once you have previewed the assignment, you can then begin your reading. If you can, try to focus your attention and sit up straight while you read. Your eText allows you to highlight (in several different colors) and make notes in the margins, so you should definitely take advantage of these features, just as you would if reading a paper copy. But be sure to be selective in what you highlight – don’t go overboard and highlight everything! If you want, you can make notes on a separate sheet of paper as you read. The act of writing will help you remember information. It may sound a little weird, but try reading sections of the text and recommended articles out loud to yourself – you’ll find that this also helps cement information in your brain. Always read the introductions and conclusions of each chapter; here the author usually summarizes the main themes and ideas the chapter will cover. Look at beginnings and ends of paragraphs; here the author will often summarize the main point they are trying to make. Read each paragraph looking for the central idea; when you find it, underline the sentence that best expresses it.  Also make marginal notes so you can easily find paragraphs on certain themes. If you find yourself getting overwhelmed by detail, stop.  Authors often will introduce a big idea and then give a number of examples to illustrate it; understanding the idea is more important than knowing all the examples. As you are reading, try to answer the questions you posed earlier. Some of the answers will pop out at you in the first reading, while others may require you to dig deeper.

After you have finished reading a chapter, you may be tempted to set it aside and not look at it again, but this would be a mistake. Repetition is what makes learning work, and looking over the reading again will help to move the information you have just read into your long-term memory. Immediately after completing a reading assignment, recite to yourself the key point of what you just read, including the answers to your questions and the important points you highlighted. Within 24 hours after you complete the first reading, review the material. Flip through the pages, reread your notes and the parts you highlighted. Do the same review again, weekly or monthly, until you know it cold.

Pay Attention to Deadlines, Read the Rubrics, and Always Check Your Work

All written assignments (Annotated Bibliography, Final Paper, and discussion board posts) have specific dates on which they're due. Late discussion posts are not accepted, and late bibliographies or papers are subject to a "5% deduction per day late" penalty. Exceptions may be made in the case of serious family, medical, or work emergencies – but I need to know about them as soon as possible – preferably BEFORE the missed deadline.


The Rubrics for the Bibliography, Final Paper, and Discussion Board contain specific information on how to format these assignments and complete them successfully. I will be using these rubrics in my evaluation of your work, so you should use them to understand exactly what you need to do to get full points on each assignment. You can find the Rubrics for the Final Project in the “Final Project” page, and the Rubric for the Discussion Board posts can be found on the Discussion Board page under the instructions for the Icebreaker Forum.


All word-processing programs have spell-checkers. If you are poor at spelling, write your discussion comments and emails in your word processing program, then cut and paste them into the discussion area or email. Use grammar checking too, and be sure to follow the formatting instructions in the assignment. Additional: "spell-checkers" and "grammar checkers" aren't 100% foolproof. Check your work for words that sound alike, but are incorrect in usage: e.g., “its” and “it’s” – “there,” "their," and "they're” – “led” and "lead” – “accept” and “except,” etc., among many others.

How to Succeed in the Discussion Board

As the Discussion Rubric notes, "Your active participation in the discussion forums is essential to your overall success this term. Discussion questions are designed to help you make meaningful connections between the course content and the larger concepts and goals of the course. These discussions offer you the opportunity to express your own thoughts, ask questions for clarification, and gain insight from your classmates' responses and instructor's guidance."


Discussions are a very important part of this class – and are worth 28% of your overall grade. You are required to make at least three posts in each discussion: an initial post (which should be made early in the week – meaning by Wednesday at the latest) and responses to two of your classmates' posts.

When posting, be sure that your post (whether initial or response) addresses the posed discussion question. Discussion questions are presented in two parts: the first part should be answered in your initial post, and the second part focuses your response posts in manner designed to advance the discussion.


Discussion posts should have "depth" to them. They should have substantive content – whether "initial" or "response." By this, I mean that merely repeating what the textbook says or what another person posts is not "depth." Posts also should contain citations to your sources of information – whether "scholarly" or not. Please note that it is definitely forbidden to plagiarize in your discussion board posts. If you have read the Rubric, you will see that one of the main criteria you will be evaluated upon is the “ability to put key concepts in one’s own words.” Cutting and pasting text from another source in your discussion board posts will not meet this important criterion, and you will lose points as a result.


This is neither FaceBook, nor Twitter. One-line or two-line initial or response posts that simply repeat material from the textbook or another's post, and/or just agree or disagree with that post, aren't going to receive as high a grade as posts that are well-thought-out, add new information to the discussion, and cite that information's source. Posting with "depth" both advances the discussion, and shares new sources of information with the entire class – that’s what discussion posts are supposed to do.