If you're thinking about taking
an online course, you already know that it will require some
basic technological skills. And while you don't need
to be a computer scientist to take a class online it would be good for you to have
a really solid understanding of the basic technical skills
you'll need to succeed. Understanding what these skills are
up front will make things much easier for you as a student, which is
why we've created this module. After completing it,
you'll have an idea of what your online instructor
might need you to know. This includes becoming familiar with:
- the hardware and software requirements
of most online courses
- the value of a fast
- how to locate and download the free plugins
that your course might require
- the basics of email; how to obtain tech support
when you need it
What will I need?
Students now are taking their online
courses using a range of devices, from desktop and laptop computers
to smartphones and tablets. You may choose to do your schoolwork
on one or more of these gadgets. It's really about finding out which
form of hardware best suits both your needs as a student and
the requirements of the course. If you're going to buy a computer,
select something reliable, and more importantly, make sure that
you have access to a fast Internet connection. We recommend, but don't require,
a broadband connection.
If your computer isn't particularly reliable,
or if you don't have a computer or other internet-capable device,
don't worry. There are plenty of places where
you can find computer access, and oftentimes for free: for instance, your local library
or a computer lab on campus. Just make sure that the device
you choose to work on is dependable and that the space you choose to work in
is conducive to your study habits. Slow computers and poor internet connections
can significantly increase the time it takes for you to access and complete the
requirements for your online course, and the last thing you want to
deal with all semester is Internet, hardware, or accessibility issues.
There are some basics that your device
will need to be equipped with in order to interact with your school's
course management system properly. For instance, you'll want to make sure that
you have an up-to-date operating system. Your computer's operating system
is the software that manages the programs and functions
of your computer. For the courses you take here,
you will be required to have one of the following operating systems:
- For PC, Windows 7 or higher
- For Mac, OS 10.4 or higher
Your individual course may also
have its own hardware requirements. Check with your instructor
or take a look at your syllabus to see if there is anything else
you might need for your course. Some of these common hardware requirements
- A printer
- A headset
- A web cam
Another factor that you'll want to keep an
eye out for is whether your course or CMS requires a particular browser
for viewing internet content. Some content does not display properly or
particular functions may not perform adequately in certain browsers; however, if you view the same content
or page in a different browser, it will look and work perfectly. So make sure that if your instructor asks
you to use a particular browser when completing a certain task,
you follow his or her instructions. This may seem like a pain,
especially if there is a certain browser that you prefer using when online,
but trust us—it's all about compatibility. It is always a good idea to
have several browsers installed on your machine when possible. That way you have a few
options to choose from if you run into any problems. Some popular browsers that will work
with your school's CMS include:
- Apple's Safari
- Google Chrome
- Mozilla Firefox
- Internet Explorer
These browsers should work fine
with your school's CMS, but again, they may not all work well with
particular resources or applications that your instructor may need you
to access for certain assignments. If there are any compatibility issues
you need to be aware of, your instructor will let you know
which browser to use for the most reliable experience.
In addition to having a browser
to view online content, sometimes your course will require
you to install one or more of the following plugins so that you
can view other media that the browser alone
may not be able to handle: like animations, sound clips,
PDFs, or any number of other things. Some common plug-ins you may
need to install could include:
- Adobe Reader
- Adobe Flash Player
- Windows Media Player
- Microsoft Silverlight
These are free applications you can
download from the internet, and your instructor
will let you know when
you need a particular plug-in in order to view something.
You will also definitely need
an email account, if you don't already have one. Lots of schools provide free email
accounts for registered students and some insist that you use this account
for any school-related emails. Take a look at your school's email policy
and figure this out before you sign up for any online course, because this
will be one of the chief ways that you will communicate with your
instructors and classmates. Your instructor will probably state
in his or her syllabus what the preferred means of communication
will be for the term. And if you're not required to use
a school email account, you can use one you've already set up, or set up a new one with a free email service
like Gmail or Yahoo. In fact, even if you have an old email account, you may want to make a new one that reflects
your status as a college student.
If you were an instructor, which of these
would you rather receive a student email from? email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org?
Now it's time to talk technical difficulties.
Here's the bad news: during the course of your studies, you're bound to have an issue with
your computer hardware or software. But let's face it.
That would probably be true if you were taking a course in
a traditional classroom as well. We suppose it's just another facet
of the modern condition.
The good news is that most technical problems
are relatively easy to solve, and if you're really struggling
with a technical issue, you can always count on your program's
tech support team. After all, your program is here to support
you. We want you to be able to resolve your tech
issues quickly so that you can get back
to your online studies. Most of the issues you might encounter
when taking a course online don't require a complicated fix
from tech support. In fact you should be able
to solve most problems yourself, and some may be so simple that
they seem borderline ridiculous. Bear with us while we go through
some of the most frequent issues. Some of these troubleshooting suggestions
we're about to give you are really, really obvious.
Like, embarrassingly so. But you'd be surprised at how often these
"obvious" solutions are overlooked. Try some of these quick fixes if you
experience common hardware issues.
Audio description: Use these buttons to learn more about troubleshooting.
Is it plugged in?
Check your computer cables and connections
to make sure a cable or connection has not loosened or come unplugged. Sometimes things shift around
without you noticing, and it's an easy place to start.
Is there power?
If your computer is plugged into a surge protector
make sure that the surge protector
is turned on. It's often a good idea to reset the surge
protector by turning it off and on, just in case this is the source of your problem.
Using a portable?
If you are using a laptop, Netbook,
notebook, or tablet, it is a good idea to check your
battery status often while you work. You can generally move your mouse over
the battery icon shown on your screen and it will tell you
just how much battery life is left. If the device will not turn on at all,
try plugging it in and charge it for a few minutes before trying again. Some devices have a battery indicator
on the outside of the device as well, usually near or on the battery itself.
If your computer monitor is blank,
make sure it is plugged in, connected to the computer,
and turned on. Next, check the brightness control,
generally located on the monitor or keyboard.
If you have no sound on your computer,
check the volume control for your computer to see if it is turned up high enough. Some applications
have their own volume controls as well. Make sure you check both places
to resolve any sound issues. If you're using speakers, make sure
they are plugged in, turned on, and properly connected to the audio port. It can be helpful to test your system's sound
by plugging headphones into the audio port on your computer to see if
you can hear anything that way. If trying one of these "easy fixes"
does not solve your issue, save your work and try
restarting your computer. Surprisingly, this troubleshooting
technique often works best!
One last way to find a solution is to simply
conduct an Internet search for your issue. With billions of computer and Internet
users around the world, chances are that someone has had
the same problem you're having, and that someone else
has posted a solution. The Internet is full of these kinds
of resources, from companies' official troubleshooting pages
to community help forums. You'll often be able to pretty easily
find the solution you're looking for. Here is some important advice: when attempting to solve a
technical problem on your computer, keep track of any messages
your computer displays, and the steps you've taken
in your attempt to fix it. If the problem is really complicated,
you might need to explain to tech support everything you've done
to try to fix it on your own. If none of these strategies work, however,
don't hesitate to contact your school's tech support team.
Write down their phone number , and call if you need some assistance. Remember, they're here to support you
and your studies. They'll do their best to help you
quickly find a solution to any issues they can.
You have successfully completed
the Getting Tech Ready module
and we hope you are feeling
a bit more comfortable
with some of the technology you will
be using to take your online course!
For additional information,
make sure you check with the IT department
at your local school.
They will be able to provide you with
the valuable resources and instructive guidance
you need to become a tech savvy student!