Sol G. Writes: Distance Classes are Great, but Don’t Lose Track of Deadlines!

It’s Autumn! Boston in the fall is a wonderful place to be. If you’re a distance student, you’re still enjoying one of the best things about it- the fall semester at the Extension School. So here we are. I’m in Abnormal Psych this semester, and I’m taking it online. For those of you who’ve never done this, let me tell you about it, because it’s a very convenient way to take a class if you just can’t schedule it any other way.

First, there are videos. The lectures are in two one-hour segments, so you go to the class page (You will need to log in with your Harvard ID, not your Extension School “@” ID. If you don’t have a Harvard PIN yet, go here and sign up for one. It’s easy and quick.) On your Extension school page, after you log in, there will be a link to the website for any class you’re taking that has one. That page will have a link saying “videos.”

The class videos are exactly what they sound like- videos of the lecture, as it happens, in class. Most videos are up quickly; I’ve had one class where they were up almost immediately. They do understand that you need time to do papers and things based on the lectures! You can watch the lectures online, anytime, and yes, you can watch them more than once. If you do attend the class in person, you can still use the videos to review. If you’ve seen them once, one thing I recommend is putting them on in the background while you work on other things, so that you can listen along and review.

When you watch them the first time, don’t do anything else. Take notes, just like you would in person. Pay attention to the slides, if there are slides- these really are important. Don’t open other screens or play games or chat. Take the time to really attend class; the whole point behind doing it online is that you can then schedule this attentive time when it’s convenient for you. Take advantage of that, and really get into the class.

You’ll have to, because participation is still required. Along with videos posted, there are often forums. The abnormal psych class I’m in requires a certain level of participation. i find that level easy to meet, especially online. Let’s face it, I’m a chatterbox. You know that, you’ve been reading my posts. But it means that I have to check back, and pay attention to what people say. My classmates are from all kinds of different backgrounds, and have very different clinical perspectives. It’s very helpful to see how they present the problems we’re given in class; it’s helped me structure my own answers better and I have a much wider frame of reference now.

I am enjoying the class. It’s very fast-moving, and I’m intrigued by the idea that the exam is both online and open-book. I’ve never done an exam like that before; I’m sure that it will require a lot more thought than just a multiple choice test. It’s an interesting way to include technology, and preclude cheating in an online scenario.

The hardest part about taking an online class is that without attending in person, it’s very easy to lose track of the week, and suddenly realize, “Oh, no! It’s Wednesday, my paper was due Tuesday!” If your week isn’t framed around the anchors of classtime, it can be easy to lose things in the shuffle of the workweek, which usually ends on Friday.

The answer to this is to try to watch the classes at the same time every week, and to make time on one day a week, every week, to address the class schedule and what you need to get done. My watching day is Wednesday (the classes are on Tuesday, and yes, the videos have been up by that time.) My review day is Saturday, since papers are due Sunday night. I stop, check the website, make sure I’ve done my participation and caught up on people’s replies. I make sure that I’ve done the reading for next week’s lecture, or make time on my schedule for it. I make sure that my paper is done. Doing this every week on the same day ensures that nothing slips through the cracks, even on the busy, crazy weeks.

Yes, we’re working professionals. And some weeks are insane. That’s why the anchors help. It also helps my work life, because I’ve started doing the same thing there—I asked my manager to sit down with me every two weeks and review the project list with me to make sure that I have a deadline. Once a week, I stop what I’m doing, take out my list of everything I’m in the middle of, and make sure nothing’s dropped off the edge of my workweek.

Oh! and one more thing (I say this all the time, but I can’t say it enough) When you hand in a paper via dropbox, take the time to make sure that the file uploaded properly. Open the file that got uploaded, make sure it’s you’re most recent draft and that the darned thing uploaded! It matters- if it didn’t, it’s your grade on the line! In my current class, I get the papers back with comments via dropbox, too. Every class does that differently; in some, the TA emails them to you.

So there you have it, the thrills of taking an online class. It’s just as much responsibility and fun as an in-person class, but you don’t get as much time to schmooze. They do offer, at least in some classes, an “introductions” forum where you can talk about anything you like with other students. Use it! You never know which of these people you’ll be grateful to see in another, even harder, class!

On a non-class note, Autumn is a time of harvest, and a time of celebrating the richness of the season. I hope that you have the chance to get together with people and watch the leaves change, get some local apples, and really enjoy the season. New England is kind of special in celebrating this way- look for seasonal specials at a lot of the cafes and restaurants, and bring a sweater. Even though warm weather’s predicted for the rest of the week, evenings can still get very chilly!


  1. majid
    Posted September 24, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    can Harvard online classes be taken anytime of the year, or do i have to wait in the term these are offered?

    • Posted September 30, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      Good question!

      Yes, you have to start each course at the beginning of the term they’re in, but some courses are offered every term so there isn’t much wait!

      Like a regular university, each semester offers a wide menu of courses. Some are offered every semester (like the expository writing class) while others are specific to certain semesters.

      Unfortunately, it’s not possible to start a course in the middle of the semester and get full credit for it, but the spring 2011 term is coming up VERY fast, and registration begins well before the class dates. The idea is that for some, you need prerequisites (like intro to Psych- if you get the chance to take Dr. Fernald’s version, go for it!) You’ll notice that it’s offered in both Spring and Fall, because it’s needed for so many other courses.

      So yes, you may have to wait for a course to come around again, but there’s always something to take, and if you need help deciding, get in touch with the advisors, who would love to help.

  2. Alan
    Posted October 5, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    I hear from some that HES is an easy copout, from others that it is bloody hard. Is HES on the level with the rest of Harvard?

    • Posted October 5, 2010 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      I would say (honestly) yes, it’s hard. I originally thought the program would be easier than it is. I’m not the smartest, but I’m not illiterate or ignorant, and I thought I was going to have it easy in at least a few classes. That hasn’t happened yet.

      We have less time, and it’s aimed at a different audience who are doing more, but that doesn’t seem to win us too many breaks. I’ve taken Summer School courses alongside students from other Harvard schools, including the College and the Law school, and those courses weren’t any harder than my regular classes at the Extension School; I was surprised when the other students agreed that they were difficult.

      So I don’t think it’s a copout. Some classes may be easy for you. I hope so. Others will be hard, terribly, bone-grindingly hard. Hopefully, most will fall somewhere in between. There are some teachers who grade more gently, and others who are almost impossible to please. Remember, these are in many cases professors who also teach at Harvard’s other schools. We cover most of the same material in less time, with less instruction, than anywhere else.

      There will be some classes you find easy; you’d probably find them easier at the other schools, too. I haven’t met one yet that I thought I could pass easily or without serious study, and I’m usually in the top 25% of my classes.

      I do think one thing that’s different is that for some classes, especially business, life experience can make it easier. I think in those areas, HES students have the advantage and will find it easier than younger students would. If there’s a point where it becomes easy, though, I’m waiting to find it.

      Here’s hoping it’s easier for you than it is for me, that’s all. I never tell people that it’s easy, only that it’s worth it.

      • Alan
        Posted October 6, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the reply, I appreciate the honest opinion.

  3. Naomi
    Posted November 18, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Hi, thanks for your blog. I am desperately analyzing HES, and besides the Harvard website, I can’t get a real perspective on it. Do you think that the degree offerings are relevant? Do you feel that employers overlook what your degree is in and only see the words Harvard? I would hate to dedicate what is it 5 years for a 2 year masters, when it amounts to me being steeper in debt and without any good employment that will pay it off. Just analyzing it is making me nuts, what is your perspective? Any examples on how other extension students are faring with a degree like this?

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