Seven rules for doing well in on-line courses

Seven Rules for Doing Well In On-line Philosophy Classes

  1. Understand the class you are taking. Go into Canvas and look around. Find the course syllabus. Notice the exams, papers, and other things you will be graded on. For most of my courses you will find the PowerPoint slides that accompanied the lectures.  Make sure you have, or have ready access to, the required materials: text books, required movies, and for many courses, REQUIRED VIDEO-LECTURES!
  1. Do the assigned reading. Reading the work of professional philosophers, including I’m afraid your instructor, can be very demanding. But, you should do the reading anyway. Philosophy is a written discipline, and much of the content of our course will come from written texts. There will be parts of the reading that most of you will find very difficult to understand. Don’t despair; I will take responsibility for guiding you through the material I find most important, and the material for which you will be responsible in exams and papers.
  1. Attend class regularly. Yes, I know, this is a distance course, but there are video-lectures that accompany the course. These are ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL! I am a very traditional lecture style professor, and the most important content comes out of the lectures. Almost all of the real disasters I have had in distance education have come from students who did not really study the video-lectures. I can virtually guarantee that anyone who really does study every lecture, takes notes, uses the notes and PowerPoint slides in the open-book, open-note exams, will earn at least a C in this course.
  1. Be strategic in the essay exams. First of all, carefully read the questions. What is being asked? If there’s a choice factor, which ones am I the most prepared for? You want to show just how well you understand the material. That means you should never stop with the bare minimum answer. If there was some controversy, be sure to discuss it. If there are objections to the position you are defending, at least acknowledge them. And perhaps most important REGURGITATE the material discussed in the reading and lectures. I have purposely used the very unflattering term “regurgitate.” Regurgitation has a bad press. I would never insist that you agree with me, or any of our authors, about controversial philosophical, political, or religious positions (this really is the truth, though students consistently accuse me of holding the beliefs against them in their grades). But, regurgitation has nothing to do with “spouting the party line.” It’s a way of demonstrating that you have read, thought about, and mastered, material that was emphasized in the course (including material you may disagree with).
  1. Don’t fall behind in the course. I fully recognize the tremendous responsibilities that my distance students shoulder — school, jobs, family, etc. I have purposely kept my courses asynchronous — this is the main reason I have not required discussions. If you know that there are going to be weeks where you will not be in a position to keep up with our course, work ahead and avoid putting it off to later. I can’t tell you how many times I have had students start off strong in my course, and then fall of the cliff as they try to master material that took two or three weeks when the course was taught on-campus in just two or three days (sometimes it feels like two or three hours).
  1. Ask questions. If you are unsure about anything, please just ask me. E-mail is the preferred medium these days. I’m always available at You could also be “so twentieth century” and we can arrange to talk on the phone.
  1. Relax and enjoy the course. I’m prejudiced, of course, but I think the material in all of the courses is interesting and important. There will be plenty of work, that’s for sure. But if you keep on top of it, I think I can promise you a satisfying experience.