December 7, 2023

Useful Classroom Tips for First-Time College Students

Author: Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
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Start a transportation and logistics management degree at American Public University.

By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University

Whether you are a single adult, about to retire from the military or just someone who has decided to finally get a college degree, there are some simple tips you should know to be successful in school. First-time college students often experience some culture shock when they take college courses. That’s especially true for online college courses, which require more effort, dedication and time management than high school.

Conducting Research for Discussion Forums in Online Classes

Many first-time college students wind up with a grade of 60 to 90 during the weekly discussion forums of our online classes. The topic for the forum is related to the coursework for that week and sometimes might involve a current event.

If you are in a class on logistics, for instance, the forum topic might be about the issues involved in packing and listing the boxes in a warehouse. The forum topic could also require you to look up some current event, such as the White House tariffs on products being imported from China or Mexico.

Conducting research can be frightening for first-time college students who are not sure how to start. A dictionary is a good place to begin. It also helps to ask classmates, your husband or wife, or a close friend.

You can also send an email to your professor and ask how to do research. Your instructor will probably tell you to do a few Google searches and give you some search terms that will steer you to more information about your research topic.

Completing Discussion Forums

Completing the weekly discussion forum post is easy. You write and post a 250-word statement about what you have researched, using the discussion forum questions as your guide about what to discuss.

You are also expected to make substantive, 150-word responses to at least two other students in your discussion forum. You should always say something more than a simple “I agree.”

For example, let’s say that everyone in the forum lists the same four or five items from their reading. In your response, you could ask a fellow student an open-ended question, such as “Which item do you think is the most important?” You could also explain why you think one or more of those items is most important to you.

Many students add personal anecdotes to their forum posts. For instance, they might describe how they use certain items or processes at work in regard to the topic(s) under discussion.

Grading the Discussion Forums

The grading rubric describes how your posts in the discussion forum will be graded. One common mistake that first-time college students make is to read the discussion question and start answering it right away.

Be sure to read the grading rubric thoroughly. You may often find that your instructor wants you to provide additional information or do additional work.

To earn a grade of 100% for a discussion forum, for example, the rubric may require you to post more than three times in that week’s work. That means a minimum of four posts. Always check to see what is required to achieve a top grade for your forum posts.

Working on Writing Assignments

Writing a college paper is another frightening task for many first-time college students. Read the instructions carefully and at least twice.

Think about what you do not understand. If necessary, email your professor or ask a fellow student about what needs to be included in the paper.

Your instructor will also include a grading rubric, typically shown as a link or as an attachment. Spend a few minutes reading the rubric carefully.

If you’re confused about the rubric, contact your professor. My experience is that students who ask questions are the one who earn the top grades.

The instructions for your writing assignment will include a format to follow. One of the classic classroom errors is forgetting to put your name on a paper. About five out of every 25 students will forget to put a name on their work.

There may be predetermined headings that your instructor wants you to use. For instance, the  instructions may ask you to use headings such as “Major Problems,” “Data,” “Possible Solutions” and “Conclusion.”

References are mandatory unless you are writing about some personal experience or your opinion on some topic. You must show where your factual research comes from and use a certain citation style. Depending upon your degree program, you may use the American Psychological Association (APA), Chicago Manual of Style, Turabian or Modern Language Association (MLA) citation style.

Working with Your Professor

In the online classroom, your professor can see all of your forum posts and the effort you put into what you write. If you are confused or concerned about something in your class, be sure to reach out to your instructor. He or she will want to hear from you.

Professors in your online classes are supportive. They know how tough it is to be a working adult student and are used to dealing with military deployments, deaths and births in your family, or other personal problems that could affect your schoolwork. But be sure to let your professor know if there are issues, rather than simply disappearing from the online classroom.

Remember That Support Is Always Here, Especially for First-Time College Students

If you follow these simple tips for first-time college students, you will have an improved chance of earning that perfect grade. But there are tutors and other resources available to you as well if you’re struggling with your classes — talk with your academic advisor for more information.

About the Author

Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He was the program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics.

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