Dear online student (or prospective online student),

As summer draws to a close, you might be thinking about the start of classes this fall. If you’re like many students this fall, your schedule might include one or more online classes, where your interaction with the teacher and other students takes place through the web or some other electronic means.

For some students, this can be a challenging way to learn, as it requires a different set of skills than they might be used to. However, online classes can provide a chance to take a class or complete a degree when your work, schedule or other life responsibilities make it difficult or impossible to take a class in person. If you are taking an online class this fall, whether it is at Bakersfield College or somewhere else, here are some things you can do to make sure you are successful:

Take some time to get to know your instructor. There’s a real person on the other side of that web site, who cares about the subject matter and wants to help you learn. I’d encourage you to reach out to them, even before the class starts, and introduce yourself. If you are a first-time online learner, say so. If you have some concerns about class, you can let them know that too. See if the instructor has a website, or if they have written anything that might interest you. All of this helps, because online learning can feel lonely at times.

Another strategy that you might try is reaching out to your fellow students. Many online instructors will facilitate this in the course environment, by providing a discussion forum or a place to post non-class conversation. Try introducing yourself there, or maybe even setting up a separate study group. Using your phone, and even most computers these days, it is very easy to use video chat to add a “live” element to your study groups as well. Reaching out to your classmates is another way you might make your online class feel a little less impersonal.

One obstacle for many online students is that they don’t have the regularly scheduled class meetings to help them keep up with the class and remember to turn in their work. If you want to be a successful online student, I highly recommend making yourself a weekly schedule. Put time in there for your online class, so you remember to check in with discussions and assignments multiple times a week. Write down assignment due dates and plan ahead to have the time needed to complete the work. Once you fall behind in an online class, it can be very difficult to catch up again.

Try to find out what apps, tools and technologies your class will use ahead of time and try to learn them beforehand. We don’t think of this, because in a traditional class we don’t have to figure out how to use most of the tools — a pencil and paper, textbook, a whiteboard (or chalkboard, depending on your age) — these all seem pretty “normal.” If you look at the syllabus, the class website or other materials, you should get an idea of the tools you will need, so you can learn them or practice in advance. If not, email your instructor and ask. Then you won’t have to learn the material and the tools at the same time.

Finally, learn how to get support from your school. At Bakersfield College, we have the Renegade Online Student Hub to help all of our online students. Students can visit in person or reach the Hub through email or via phone. Most schools have something, so do a little work in advance to have the information handy when you need it.

Online learning can be a great experience. However, it does require a different set of skills than traditional classroom learning. Learning these skills, and practicing good online manners and safety practices can ensure that you get the most out of your online class. For more information about online classes and programs offered at BC, visit www.bakersfieldcollege.edu.

Bill Moseley is the dean of academic technology at Bakersfield College, where he has supported online students for 21 years.