Navigating your online education

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BY Peter Miles Hamilton

Staff Writer

@pm_hamilton

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to force the people of the United States to make drastic changes to daily life, the nation’s schools and other educational institutions are finding that they must also change if they wish to slow the spread of the virus. 

Incoming students new to college life are finding a world very different from what they had been prepared to expect, while returning students are grappling with the changes to what they remember from the previous semesters. 

These changes have likely been affecting every kind of student differently.   Where younger students may be able to grin and bear the changes, older students not as accustomed to using technology may be feeling completely alienated. Where able-bodied and/or economically advantaged students may loathe the absence of in-person classes and find themselves bored to tears with the extra time on their hands, many others benefit from the ability to study remotely or on their own time around an oppressively long work schedule.

The following can be used as a quick reference guide for anyone feeling uncertain about how to transition to mostly online classwork.

 Canvas

The most common tool for online education at IU South Bend, Canvas is a site that allows users to view their upcoming assignments, additional materials and handouts, and submit work over the internet.  Upon logging in to the site, your “dashboard” is displayed, showing upcoming assignments and announcements.  Clicking on the name of the assignment takes you to a page for that assignment specifically, while clicking on the class name directly to the left takes you to a page for the class as a whole.   Though it might be unwieldy at first, a patient student can find Canvas to be incredibly useful.

Canvas had already been used rather extensively at IU South Bend before the pandemic, but now every class will have a page of some sort on Canvas.  The real trouble with it is that the extent to which it is used for a class is almost entirely dependent on the professor.  Some classes will be conducted solely through features of Canvas, while others will avoid using it for anything more than posting a syllabus.   As a result, more obscure or uncommon features of Canvas can be jarring to students who haven’t used them before, which becomes a serious problem when those features are tied to high-graded assignments.   Professors may or may not be able to answer some questions about the site, depending on their own familiarity with it as some embrace the site while others despise it.   If you run into problems, it is advised to talk with classmates and fellow students for help.   They likely have had similar problems as you, and a few will be enthusiastic to help.

Zoom

Zoom is a video-calling platform, similar to services such as Skype, FaceTime, or Facebook Live.    Participants in the call are displayed on-screen, with a few tools in a bar on the bottom of the screen.   There are three main tools that most classes will use; the audio/video tools in the bottom left corner, the Chat tool in the center, and the red Leave tool in the right corner.   The Audio and Video buttons control sound and picture; if you can’t hear or be heard, then check the Audio button, and if you can’t see or be seen, check the Video button.   The Chat tool, when clicked, will bring up a text log on the right side of the screen where users can type messages to each other privately or to the class as a whole.   By design, Zoom has few tools to be more easily accessible to everyone.

Google Drive

Google Drive is a collection of several different applications, of which the most often used by IUSB are Gmail and Google Docs.  Gmail is the application used for emails; every student and faculty member of the university is automatically given a Gmail account, which is used for official communication through the school.  Best practice is to check it by computer or through a smartphone app about once a day.  Google Docs, meanwhile, is a cloud-based word processor.  It is used to type papers, and it automatically saves every few seconds, so work should rarely, if ever, be lost or accidentally deleted so long as you have access to a stable internet connection.

 These three applications will be a student’s most invaluable tools for the upcoming semesters; the overwhelming majority of all schoolwork will be conducted through them.

 We here at Tthe Preface wish you students a safe and successful school year, as unconventional as it may be!

 

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