How it Works

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New to Online Learning?

Within this section, we've tried to answer some basic how to questions. In an online environment, it's also good to understand when to do certain things. Perhaps more importantly is knowing why people behave online the way they do. 

Even if online learning is completely new to you, we hope that very soon you will feel comfortable learning from and interacting with others. Many online students not only find this a convenient way to learn, but they discover online learning to be thought-provoking, stimulating, and challenging as well. 

No, it's not "the same"

It's natural to compare online learning to classroom learning. Both learning environments have things in common: focusing on one subject area, reading books and articles, discussing your ideas with others, completing projects and writing papers.  As in a classroom course, you have an instructor, a "guide" to the intellectual territory you are exploring. Learning online is usually more convenient - you attend to class online following your instructor’s explicit timelines as noted on the course syllabus, and you only need travel as far as the nearest computer. What's "missing" is face-to-face interaction in real time.

Students who learn together online can - and often do - experience what can rightfully be called "community." They make room for and listen to each person's voice. They learn from one another's experience and recognize that together they can discover what is true.  Online learners often tell us they become close to their classmates in their online courses like a traditional course.

Participating in an Online Course

Most online courses at Rider University follow a similar "weekly cycle." The faculty member will post one or several questions at the beginning of each week. Students are asked to respond to those questions. Some students new to the online environment are unsure what to say in their discussions. Here are some guidelines:

  • Small talk (greetings, weather, sports) is nice, especially at first. It helps people "break the ice" and feel welcome. Frequently in your online course, the first assignment given by your processor will be a “Introduction” discussion board.  This is a great place where you can get to learn your new classmates and get ready for the semester ahead.

  • In your comments, address the weekly readings. Most faculty will ask that you refrain from a simple recall of information, but rather demonstrate that you can apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate knowledge presented in the assigned readings (and/or any additional external sources).

  • If you refer to a particular idea from an assigned reading or text, give author and page number [s] (e.g., Author's Last Name, p. 201-202). When quoting, use quotation marks and also give author and page number[s].  This also applies when merely paraphrasing and/or summarizing. This helps your online classmates to distinguish between what you are saying and what someone else has said. It also directs them to your source so they can explore the idea further on their own.

  • Support your arguments and ideas with examples, experiences, other readings, or concepts from the textbook.

It is recommended that you log in to Cavnas on a regular (usually daily basis, or at the very least every other day). Please note that to gain full marks for participation in a course, you must check the syllabus for detailed participation guidelines. If you skip two or three days in a row, you may easily find yourself feeling left out of a discussion and fall behind in your work. Some people log in first thing in the morning just to see what others posted the night before. During the day, they think about the issues raised and make a few mental notes to themselves about the thoughts and questions they themselves have. Then they log in later in the day or evening, compose their responses, and post them to the group.

In addition to participating in the online discussion, your course load will also most likely involve completing assignments (such as individual or group projects, concept integration or research papers), quizzes, and so on.

The online courses at Rider University utilize the same faculty, textbooks, course objectives, etc., as the University's classroom-based courses.


Online Course Format

Rider’s online courses offered using Canvas are typically not self-paced courses. In those which are not self-paced, yYou will need to diligently meet scheduled dates for projects and assessments that must be completed during specific time periods throughout the semester or term.

You Students will learn about the structure of your online course and its components by reading your course syllabus. Make sure to read the course syllabus carefully as each faculty member may have different expectations, requirements and deadlines.  Of course, if you have any questions, you should contact your faculty instructor as soon as possible.

Before the course begins:

  • Log into the course using Canvas – you may be given access to your course at least one week prior to the course start date. If not, ask your faculty when he/she will publish the course site. Make sure you can log into the course without any problems.  If you experience problems logging in, you should contact the OIT helpdesk at [email protected] immediately.
  • Introduce yourself – post an introductory message in the Introductions thread of the Discussion Forum. Your faculty member may specify what information you should include in your introductory message (such as your occupation, student status, etc.)
  • Complete the Pre-Week Assignment (if any) – your syllabus may specify a pre-week assignment and/or reading. Make sure you complete those before the class officially begins.

During each week:

  • Complete all required readings – online discussion requires that you integrate reading materials into your postings. Make sure you study all reading assignments before engaging in the online discussion.
  • Participate in the Discussion Forum – check your syllabus for discussion expectations and guidelines. Typically, you will log in every day or every other day to respond to postings and participate in the online discussion.
  • Complete all assignments – read your syllabus carefully to see if you need to complete any assignments other than the online discussion. If you need clarification on your assignments, make sure you communicate with your faculty.


  • Check on your progress – if you are unsure of your progress in class, send your faculty member an email asking about it. Your faculty member may also keep the online grade book (which you can access by clicking on Grades menu which will keep you informed of your progress in class.

Any questions or concerns you have regarding your online course participation should be addressed with your faculty.


Discussion Guidelines

Online discussions are an important component of any online course. It is through discussion that we share ideas and knowledge. It is just as important in an online course as it is in a traditional classroom environment. When discussing topics in an academic discussion is not a matter of opinion nor is it a matter of "I think."

Academic discussion is a learned discourse based on factual information obtained through reading and/or researching your topic. Before the discussion segment begins, you should have read the assigned readings. Use the texts, the study questions and the readings to support your discussion. Remember, you are not writing a paper in this section. You are carrying on a discussion and the format should be similar to that of a verbal discussion. Try to keep discussions brief and to the point.

A FRIENDLY REMINDER: Readings must be completed before each discussion. The discussion is a mandatory part of the course and your grade will depend a great deal on your participation and contribution to the discussion held on each topic. Before we get into the components of the discussion portion of the course, it is important that you read the following section on netiquette, and the tips for discussion that follow.



Netiquette is nothing more than etiquette on the network. It is easy to forget when looking at words on a computer screen that there is a real person behind those words. There are rules of netiquette that are required during your participation in an online course, including:

  • When communicating via the computer screen, you do not have the benefit of voice intonation, facial expressions, body language or gestures to interpret the meaning behind the words. The same words spoken orally in different manners can mean different things. Give the person the benefit of the doubt when interpreting email messages.
  • People on the internet are real people. It is easy to offend someone online by writing something that may be interpreted as offensive. Observe the same type of etiquette that you would if you were face-to-face in the classroom with the person. Be respectful and always use appropriate language.
  • Respect the time and disk space of others. Be concise in your messages. Some students have a limited amount of disk space available to them, so be sure that you think about what you are going to say and make it relevant to the topic being discussed.
  • Share knowledge. You may come across resources that may be helpful to others.
  • No ‘flaming’ (insults, etc.). Some of the topics being discussed may be controversial.  Debate based in factual knowledge is always encouraged.  Arguments or insults are not part of a meaningful academic discussion or interaction.
  • Pay attention to punctuation, spelling and grammar.
  • Do not type in capital letters. This is considered to be shouting on the Internet and is considered to be rude behavior.
  • Always think before you write. This is a monitored discussion.



Staying on top of your online course
In a classroom-based course, busy students often put off reading the text or writing papers until the night before class. But in an ongoing, asynchronous online discussion, there is no "class" to show up for.  Read assigned materials in order to participate meaningfully in the online discussion. Look carefully at your syllabus and course schedule to be sure you are proactive in your class participation.

Don't be afraid to ask 
One of the most critical success factors in online courses is the ability to communicate effectively and in a timely manner. Ask your faculty, academic advisor or any relevant Rider staff member questions that arise while participating in your online course.  If you feel you need tutoring support in your course, please refer to the section on Student Success Center. We all share the same goal – your success!

Before you move to reading the rest of the information in this Start Here section, please take a few moments to become familiar with Canvas, your course management system.