Making the Textbook Choice for an Online Course

Preparing for class, I get a sense of why online students can feel isolated.

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I am not a person who has ever read an entire course syllabus. As an online student, that needs to change.
I am not a person who has ever read an entire course syllabus. As an online student, that needs to change.

I am less than a week away from the start of my first online class and I do not have the required textbook. I haven't been thinking about it much. To be honest, a small part of me thought it would just arrive in the mail.

But after I received an email today from my personal finance professor reminding the class to read our syllabus and have the book by the first day of class, I decided it was time to take action – the question was how.

I am not a person who is particularly organized, or who has ever read a course syllabus from front to back. I tend to do better with visual cues. If my roommate walks in the door with a bunch of textbooks, in other words, I figure it may be time to get my lazy derriere to the school bookstore.

[Learn how to make a great impression in an online class.]

For the first time today, I sensed the isolation that can plague online students. It would be so much easier if I could just ask a fellow classmate where she got her books. Does the school library have these on reserve? Is there someone at the school bookstore I should call?

Forced to take initiative, I actually printed out and read my 14-page syllabus, which said a lot about the importance of my weekly readings, but nothing about how to track this book down. I realize I could have just emailed the professor, but I felt like I had to move fast.

After discovering that you can rent books online – who knew? – I decided to go with the tried-and-true method of ordering my textbook on Amazon.com for $109.

I could have gone for an e-book for about half the price, but I didn't like the idea of having to read chapters on my iPhone or laptop. I don't like the way my eyes feel when I've looked at a screen for too long, and I find something calming about physically turning pages and highlighting sentences with an actual marker.

I can access my course materials in five days, assuming I can figure out how to navigate the learning management system – in layman's terms, the platform that allows me to interact with classmates and submit my work.

I am feeling confident. It took some time and too many passwords, but I've got my school email account up and running. I'd logged in successfully to my email account two weeks ago. But when I tried to sign in yesterday, I realized a system upgrade had occurred and I had to start the entire process again.

[Explore the basics of an online course.]

My syllabus tells me I will need to log in the first day and tell my fellow classmates about myself.

I'm curious to meet them.

My hunch is they will be mostly accounting and finance majors destined for business careers. Hopefully they won't learn about my journalism background and think, "She'll have an easy time with her final project. Her financial plan is simple – switch professions."

Trying to fund your online education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for Online Education center.