A check list of basic essential tools and resources needed to get the best out of on line courses
By Tunde Niyi-Akinmade
With the attention being turned to the Internet for academic and personal development courses as a result of the global lockdown caused the coronavirus, there is an great need for such “students” to be equipped with the necessary basic resources for the anticipated benefits to be derived.
Internet-based distance learning is a unique learning experience which requires some essential tools. The basic ones in the list below will ensure that you get the best out of your online studying experience.
Each one on this list is essential:
1. A Good, Reliable Computer
For an on line course, it is important for you to have a functioning desktop computer, laptop or tablet, if you want to get the best out of the experience. However, the type or configuration of the system depends on you. But note you would be using this system for a variety of tasks depending on the course you are studying.
Whatever type you have make sure it is in good conditions and that it is either with Windows rather than iOS so that will have a larger choice of the software to download for the your multitask. Also make sure it has an advanced version of Windows.
You might be faced with making a choice between a desktop or a laptop. The advice is to go for a laptop. This gives you the ability to access the full benefits of an on line course: flexibility and portability as you can easily switch Internet sources, place of study and other similar conditions.
However, the basic computer used should have the following requirements:
- Internal processor of at least 2GHz.
- 4GB RAM (Random Access Memory) working memory.
- Monitor and video card capable 1024×768 pixels or greater resolution.
- DVD/CD-ROM drive: it makes your computer compatible with older programs that haven’t yet updated their material to a fully online format and also comes handy for software installation, viewing lectures on DVD, or old movies, that are not available as downloads. The internal DVD/CD-ROM drives can be installed in some laptops and most desktops, and external DVD/CD-ROM drives can link into most computers through a USB port.
- Updated web browser: this can be of any variety as long as it has the most up-to-date security measures.
2. High-speed Internet connection:
Your full participation in the online course requires you to have a reliable Internet connection that will enable you to handle basic downloads, updates, and general needs at a fast rate. You need a connection that is at least 5.0 megabits per second (mbps).
An internet connection via optical fibre is probably the best. Thus, you will, have a smooth conversation with your teacher, making the exchanges easier and so the learning process. For this reason, it is necessary to have a minimum data rate of 5MB.
3. Computer Peripherals
In some cases, there might be need to add some peripherals to the computer system to get the best out of the on line course. These basic ones are:
- Noise-cancelling headphones and microphone: Even though many computers monitors have a built-in camera, microphone, and speakers pre-installed, sometimes these features are of poor quality. Hence noise cancelling headphones and microphones might come in handy, especially for classroom discussions. However, if you are using a quiet study space in which you can control the noise and distractions, then you can go for traditional speakers and microphone.
- Web-camera: This is needed for video conferencing, which is required in many online courses either for classroom discussions, faculty meeting or group meeting and discussions.
- Flash Drive: Get on with a higher memory space: at least a 64GB if you won’t be doing much videos or pictures. This device is useful for document transfer, when working on a different computer system, and as a backup of all your schoolwork, without needing the Internet.
- Access to a printer: even though online course might reduce your need for printed materials, you might still end up needing a printer. Access to a printer would help a lot especially when you need to print, scan, and copy materials, from other sources like textbook, magazines, newspapers and journals.
Also you might want to print your assignments, projects and papers to proofread. It can also come in handy when you decide to read printed materials instead of the soft copy, so as to take a break from the computer screen and save your eyes from strains and probably sunburns from contact with low-grade UV rays.
4. Other Basic Software:
Your computer would need to be upgraded with some basic software to enable you participate adequately in your on line course.
- The main one is a video conference software: which will enable you to take lessons on the Internet: video, chat, text editor, excel sheet, digital board, share screen option, different views. Even though some online learning platforms have their own videoconference systems on their websites, there is a need for such if it is not available in your class site.
This requires you downloading a video conference software. Hence, you have to make a choice among the various ready alternatives. w is mandatory. There are many alternatives, including free ones like Skype, Google Hangouts, Talky, Zoom, and others. Some also come with more features and options but you might need to have a chargeable account before you can use them.
- Microsoft Office suite: you might end up needing a whole bunch of these programs. Apart from the basic Microsoft Word, which must of latest edition to avoid compatibility issues, you also need some key Office package like Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and probably OneNote, Publisher and Microsoft Access, can comes handy for making large data tables, and organizing lots of statistics and for computer programming.
- Updated Adobe Reader: for you to deal with PDFs (portable document format) documents: open, download, and read. Start with the free version as you might not need the paid Adobe programs like Photoshop, Lightroom, Premiere Pro for your course.
- Adobe Flash plug-in: this will enable you open and watch videos, especially online from sites like YouTube, Vimeo, and Netflix.
- Updated security suite application: this is an essential tool as it will protect you from malware (viruses, trojans, worms, spyware, etc.), offer spam filtering, and have a firewall to protect you from hackers. Some security application also offer system backups in case your computer crashes), tune-up options to improve speed and conserve storage space, and parental controls including protecting you from suspicious websites.
- A Bibliography App: this helps in the tedious task of compiling and formatting bibliographies, footnotes, and endnotes in their papers. There are free and paid apps for this task that will help you properly cite and organize the sources for your research works and save you time. This can also be used to compile a master list of sources, which can be used for any other paper and work. You simply drag the relevant sources from the master list and drop in the new list without retyping it. The free ones include EasyBib and BibMe.
- ( not really essential) A Note-Taking App: can make your course easier as it will allow you to combine word processing with the task of note-taking. A good note taking app, unlike Microsoft Word, allows you to interact with many documents at the same time. With the enormous space available, you can drag and drop pictures, videos, and charts directly into a page in your notebook. You can keep all your information for one class on one page (notebooks), while also organizing it by tabs, into whatever topics and sub-topics you want using date, subject area, project, theme, and other divisions. Good note taking apps include OneNote and Evernote.
- Additional programs: you might also need to acquire other programs such as: Microsoft Project, Microsoft Visio, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, or Adobe Premiere Pro, depending on your course content and demands.
5. A Study Space:
This is an essential resource. Because of the present lockdown, this workspace will likely be within your home. Look for good silent places like a bedroom, verandah, back porch, garden, basement, or even your laundry room/space; that offers the ambience of a study space.
However, after the lockdown, this space hunting can be extended to outside. These can be libraries, restaurants, or even campus of a nearby higher institution. Almost every campus has a library, a lecture room, or some usable study space for you to use.
Whichever space you decided to use, make sure it would be available for you to use on a regular basis: weekly or daily.
6. Email Routing
Even though this is not really necessary, it can make your study easier. Most online learning sites normally assign email address to each new student. In some cases, this might be adding to another two email accounts already own by the student. Things can be simplify by routing this email to an already existing one. This can be done simply by going into the settings of your preferred email account and instructing it to receive emails from your other account/s. This will direct all your email traffic to one email account, meanwhile the sender will see only your email address known to him/her.
7. Calendar and Personal Organizer
It is advisable you get a wall/desk calendar and an electronic organizer to be effectively organized for the game. A striking wall calendar should be posted somewhere you will see every day: by your bedroom door, dressing table mirror, or on the refrigerator. This should be filled with the month’s assignments. A physical calendar has an advantage over the electronic/digital organizer. Your organizer’s screen tend to show only one week or one day at a time while it is easy to get distracted from checking your schedule if you rely on a computer or tablet calendar. But a wall calendar is right there in your front to check.
For the electronic organizer, your phone, laptop, and tablet come with reliable calendar apps. You can also get a personal organizer. But the problem with the electronic calendar, especially a smart phone’s, is likelihood of distractions. There is always a possibility of you ending up spending two hours on WhatsApp, Facebook, emails, YouTube, and other features before dropping your phone without ever actually looking at your schedule. Simply, because it is not a device dedicated for your schedule.
Also, with the digital organizers, you might need to get into the habit of checking and updating it daily.