Some students can’t make it to campus for Summer Term, given jobs, travel, or family responsibilities. But they can still have a UW-Madison experience, thanks to an increasing number of online classes offered during summer. These classes are available from anywhere, and they’re a good way to satisfy a requirement or to focus on a challenging subject.

There’s an art to studying online during Summer Term, according to UW-Madison political science Prof. John Zumbrunnen. For the last three summers, Prof. Zumbrunnen has taught the online course Political Science 209: Introduction to Political Thought, and he’s seen what it takes for students to succeed. Here are his five insider tips.

1. Get ready to work!

If someone tells you that “online” means “easy,” don’t believe them. UW’s online courses are serious, rigorous academic experiences. After all, you’ll be earning UW credit! You should plan to devote as much time and energy to an online course as you would to a face-to-face course. And if you want an “A,” don’t do the bare minimum. Go the extra mile.

2. Enjoy the flexibility

An online course may not be easier than the face-to-face version, but it will probably give you more flexibility. You’ll have assignment deadlines, and you may have some “synchronous” course activities that require you to be online at a particular time. Otherwise, you can do your work when it works best for you. That’s a gift, especially in the summertime.

3. Manage your time

With great freedom comes great responsibility. Don’t abuse the flexibility that comes with online learning. Procrastination almost never pays off, but it is especially dangerous in an online course. Your instructor and the course syllabus will tell you what you need to do to get the result you want. Pay attention to those cues, then plan accordingly! Have a schedule for success and follow it.

Prof. John Zumbrunnen: ‘With great freedom comes great responsibility.’ (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

4. Connect with your classmates

When a class is going well, you’ll learn as much from your peers as from your prof. That’s just as true in an online course. Most online courses will require you to be in communication with classmates. Take advantage of those opportunities, and look for more. Make an extra post in the discussion forum. Have a question about course content? Don’t just ask your instructor; post it so that everyone can benefit from the fact that you’re brave enough to ask. Learning is always a collaborative project, even if you never set eyes on your collaborators.

5. Get to know your instructor

Online teaching and learning offers great flexibility for students and instructors. I love the fact that I can teach 50 students while sitting in my easy chair, drinking my morning coffee, and petting my dogs. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to connect with students. If your instructor posts a video introduction, watch it. If the instructor holds virtual office hours, drop on by. Or just send an email. We want to hear from you.