Tech Needs for Online Degree Programs

Technology smarts matter, whether you’re studying on campus or online. But as an online student, technology inherently plays an even greater role in your coursework.
Knowing from the outset what technology is required can boost your chances of success. Here are four things to look into as you prepare for the semester.
1. Online course structure: Is your program asynchronous or synchronous? Your answer will have broad implications on the technology you’ll need.
In asynchronous programs, where students work mostly at their own pace but may have to meet weekly deadlines, you log into an e-learning environment when it’s convenient, download documents and participate in discussion boards throughout the week. In some cases, you may need to record or watch presentations, but you can do this offline whenever you wish.
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Synchronous learning, or participating in class in real time, means relying more on videoconferencing and chat. You’ll need to install a video delivery program like Adobe Connect or Zoom, which may require greater internet speed. You may also need a webcam, microphone, audio recording software and video capture software.
2. Hardware, software and internet: Be sure your technology equipment is up to the task.
Some online schools like Duquesne University provide specific hardware and software requirements and recommendations for online students’ devices. Universities may also have resources similar to Indiana University’s IUware, where you can download common software, such as Office 365, for coursework at no cost.
Also determine the type and speed of internet connection you’ll need. This can be particularly important for synchronous classes.
3. Device accessibility: If you generally use a tablet, check whether it will support the requirements of your program’s online classroom, typically referred to as the learning management system.
Are mobile versions of the necessary browser plug-ins for assignments available? If your program recommends the full Microsoft Office suite, memory in the 80GB range and a CD-ROM drive, you may need occasional access to a laptop.
Another question to ask: Does course content require Flash? Note that Flash may not be compatible on all tablets.
Some programs may discourage the use of certain devices. For example, certain schools may specify that iPads and other tablets alone aren’t sufficient for completing all online coursework. If you’re planning to buy a new device, look into whether your university offers special student pricing through vendor agreements.
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4. Tech support: Before online classes start, research your institution’s sources of technical help, especially regarding your learning management system.
Indiana University, for example, offers help through live chat, phone, email, an online knowledge base and free, downloadable materials. Know the times when support is available and how to access it, especially if you are in a different time zone than the main campus.
And remember that studying online doesn’t completely rule out using pen and paper. You may find there are times you learn better by physically writing down notes.
The takeaway: Do your homework ahead of time. Start the semester by packing your toolkit with the recommended technology and resources for your online program. You’ll start strong, cut down on distractions during the semester and maximize the return on your investment in online education.