“I’ve never taken an online course. I’m scared!”

Does this sound like you? At least once a day I get a call from a student pondering his or her first online course, but nervous over what it entails. I’m here to tell you that, even though Halloween is just around the corner, there’s no reason to feel so spooked. First, let’s cover the basics: online courses take place on Blackboard, a web application. It looks a lot like an online discussion board. There’s a weekly schedule, with weekly assignments and the like. But, there’s no physical classroom. No people to see. No instructor standing at the front of the room.

What?

For some, the idea of taking classes online just seems, well, weird. Where’s the teacher? Where’s everyone else? How do I feel like I’m learning if I’m not able to watch the guy next to me twirl his pen for the next three hours?

Not to worry; there are several benefits to taking online classes. And as a writer, consider yourself lucky. Writing naturally lends itself to reading and the online experience melds to this aspect of the writing process neatly. But hold on, this is only one of many reasons to take an online class.

One of most practical benefits of online classes is that you can log in anytime, whether it’s after work, after your kids are asleep, or 3am when the cat is bouncing off the walls and you’re in your footie pajamas, snuggling up to your laptop with a big bowl of ice cream. Carla Serenko, online graduate of the Writers’ Program’s certificate in Creative Writing, says this about the convenience of the online courses: “I enjoyed the online experience because it saved me a great deal of time by not requiring me to commute to and from class and also because I could work at different times each day (a must for those of us working full-time).”

Not only do you have the freedom to log in at any time and save yourself from the LA traffic, your instructor is also checking in at least every 48 hours. “It was like having a revolving teacher 7-24,” says Robin Garland, another online graduate of the Writers’ Program’s Certificate in Creative Writing. “Each class I took, the instructors were more than happy to address any writing concerns or methods I had a question about.”

But do you have to be some kind of tech wizard who twitters and blogs and texts friends on Facebook? No.

“I’m so NOT a computer expert, and I can admit that it was a bit intimidating at first,” says Carla. “I needn’t have worried, though. The Blackboard learning platform was very easy to understand and the introduction to it was reassuring, to say the least.”

Online classes also benefit those less likely to raise their hands in class. I was one of those shy students in college, and believe me: I had perfected the art of not talking in class. But then you take an online class, and suddenly the whole dynamic changes. There may still be that one loudmouth who has to answer every question from the instructor, but this loudmouth is met by the equally weighted contributions of everyone else. Shy and reserved students suddenly have an outlet, and one that doesn’t also include them turning beet red or stuttering out what was an eloquent sentiment in their minds.

This is what Caroline Leavitt, longtime online creative writing instructor for the Writers’ Program and internationally published fiction writer, says about the online class environment: “Somehow, people are willing to risk more, and they somehow feel safer doing it.”

The days of being a wallflower in class might just be over for shy students who enroll in online courses. While it might seem that face-to-face classes are by nature more intimate, in online classes students feel they can express themselves more openly and honestly.

For those of you who think that online classes are not held to the same rigorous standard as face-to-face classes, Caroline will tell you otherwise. “There is much less chance to coast in an online class,” she says, “since everyone’s work is right out there for everyone to see who is working and handing things in and who is not.” Thus there little room for slacking off and hiding behind others who have done the homework.

We already conduct so much of our lives online, so why not learn a little while we’re at it? Take Blackboard, the web application for online courses, for a free spin.

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Sara Bond is the Program Assistant for Creative Writing (Online) and Events.

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