Online Learning in Summer

This page contains helpful information for undergraduate students interested in online classes at UW-Madison in the summer.

UW-Madison | Summer Online Student Resources


Roberto: Hometown Summer Job

Roberto’s family business is in Eau Claire, WI. He returns home each summer, working about 40 hours per week to earn money for the school year. During the spring semester an enrollment limit prevented Roberto from completing a very popular required class in his in Life Sciences communication major, but he found it available in an online format during summer; this was a three-credit course condensed into eight weeks.

Student with camera
Starting the Course

Roberto invested 15-20 hours per week to complete the course. The course had a consistent pattern each week, and leveraged real world events for instruction. Each Sunday at 12:00 AM, required text readings, video based lectures, quiz questions, and a PDF case study became available. By 11:59 PM on Tuesday Roberto needed to upload a draft PowerPoint analysis of his assigned weekly case study.

Course Flow example

Course Requirements

Wednesdays and Thursdays were Teaching Assistant and peer critique days in the course. Roberto was responsible for critiquing two of his peers; in total, he had exposure to three case studies, with feedback due by 11:59 PM Thursday evenings. Upon receiving feedback, the presentation was refined and uploaded for grading by 11:59 PM Friday evenings. Each of the case studies also had an accompanying scholarly article that filled in supporting details. Roberto also completed a weekly quiz that was due by each Saturday at 11:59 PM.

Course Flow Example

Student reading
Course Completion

Roberto did not enroll in the course looking for an "easy A." He worked hard and passed the class with an acceptable grade; however, satisfactorily completing the amount of work required was a challenge for him given his other priorities, including work and vacation plans. Knowing the rigor involved, he wished he had trimmed his work schedule by a few hours each week. Still, he found this course to be of great value because he fulfilled necessary credits and had more flexibility to schedule other courses in the next academic year.

Giulia: Internship in Washington, D.C.
Student in classroom

Giulia is excited for summer because she will participate in an internship program in Washington D.C. She knows the internship will take between 30-40 hours of her week, so she made an appointment with her academic advisor to explore the possibility of some options for fulfilling credits in order to make progress toward her degree.

Student advisor

Her advisor recommended one of several UW-Madison online courses that would give Giulia an opportunity to meet a general education requirement. While somewhat apprehensive about what an online course would entail, Giulia considered her options and eventually enrolled.

While Giulia found the online course considerably different than the face-to-face courses, she came to appreciate the nice balance of flexibility, interactivity, and rigor. In a typical week, Giulia would log into the course's Desire2Learn (Learn@UW) site as soon as practical on Monday to review a message from her instructor that introduced the content for the week and outlined all activities, expectations, and deadlines. Giulia used that opportunity to proactively plan her intership schedule, which followed a similar pattern from week to week.

Starting the Week

On both Monday and Tuesday, Giulia read chapters in the assigned textbook, articles from the web, and listened to a series of podcasts in which her professor covered foundational material for the unit. Just like her face-to-face class, Giulia took notes as she read and listened because it helped her better remember key ideas and facts that would become useful for other activities later in the week.

Student doing work from home Student doing work from home Student reading

Mid Week
Student reading

In the middle of the week, Giulia logged into the course frequently to respond to the questions posed by her instructor in the course discussion forum. The discussions were organized using small groups of 5-6, which allowed Giulia to get to know other students and make contributions without being overwhelmed by a large number of posts. Since the discussions were an important part of Giulia’s grade, she took care to make a thoughtful post by referencing her notes to incorporate ideas from the readings and podcasts. During this part of the week Giulia also checked into an online forum where students would post questions from the readings or podcasts. While she did not always have a question to ask, readings these posts was helpful for her to feel connected to the other students and read responses from her Teaching Assistant.

Finishing the Week
Student doing work from home

The two remaining tasks for the week were a journal submission and a quiz due on Sunday. The journal submission helped Giulia track and develop a personalized interpretation of course topics. She found the exercise useful because the concepts sometimes overlapped with her internship and the feedback from her TA helped prompt new ideas for her. The 20-question quiz caused Giulia a bit of anxiety because it was strictly time limited. However, whenever she studied her notes and reviewed readings prior to taking the quiz, Giulia was largely successful. In retrospect, Giulia prefered the weekly quiz to a typical course that has a mid-term and final exam.

How much time should I devote to my online summer class?

On average, one 3-credit, 8-week summer online course will require 15 hours of your time each week. This will be time spent on course material, activities, readings, assignments and exams.

You may spend more or less time than this depending on...

  • your familiarity with Learn@UW;
  • the depth of reflection you bring to course exercises;
  • the degree to which you engage in the assignments, activities, and/or suggested readings/resources outside of your lectures.

The big takeaway: Make sure to balance your summer activities with your summer course load, just as you would in fall or spring!

"Take time to study more seriously for exams."
- Previous Summer Online Student

"Keeping up with assignments is essential."
- Previous Summer Online Student


The course syllabus generally includes everything you need to know about your course, from activities to assessments to virtual office hours.

Study your syllabus to get an idea of how the course is structured. Also note any conflicts (like those summer vacations) to make sure you download the course content ahead of time (if you won't have Wi-Fi) to complete assignments while you're away. Or note days when you might need to adjust your work schedule to prepare for an upcoming project.

Weekly Rhythm Diagram

If your instructor provides a weekly rhythm or weekly flow diagram, use it! This shows you how to structure your week to be successful in the course. Here's an example. In this course every unit or module is one week long and opens on Tuesday each week. Independent, self-directed work is expected of the student early in the week, Tuesday through Friday. Assignments and activities are due every Monday at the end of the unit.

Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Mon
Weekly unit begins 8AM






Weekly unit ends 12AM
Complete required readings Work through web-based content




View lecture presentations Complete required activities






Student-to-student interaction: group & class discussion




Peer graded writing assignments, reflection & assessment


Online Course Format

A typical online course at UW-Madison uses Learn@UW to provide a virtual classroom environment. Online courses tend to be organized into modules. Modules might be organized based on time or subject matter. One instructor might have four modules each 2 weeks in length for an 8-week summer course. Another instructor might have 8 modules each dedicated to a different topic area for the course.

Tools like podcasts, discussion forums, and webpages enable students to engage with course materials, participate in online discussion activities, communicate with the instructor and other students, and submit assignments or exams for assessment. You may come across the following in your course:

  • Podcasts created by your instructor about specific subject matter
  • Discussion and interactive activities to learn and apply concepts
  • Webpages describing concepts and principles with links to external resources, multimedia, or visual elements
  • Readings from peer-reviewed journal articles, publications, and other reputable sources
  • Real-world examples from UW-Madison courses, faculty, or instructional staff
  • Supplemental resources for more information and strategies

"A detailed syllabus is the most helpful tool to an online summer course."
- Previous Summer Online Student

Online Interactions

Even though your summer course is online, you will still interact with your instructor, TA, and peers. However, it is important to manage expectations about that communication. You may not be able to email your instructor a question at 11:30PM expecting a response by midnight.

Make sure to read the syllabus thoroughly to see when your instructor/TA office hours will be held and what the average response time is for emails. If that information is not listed, contact your instructor/TA at the start of the course.

Most online courses will have four communication and interaction components:

Component Common Interactive Tools
1 Private

student to instructor
student to student
  • email
  • telephone
  • text messaging
  • voice or video chat (e.g., Skype™ or Blackboard Collaborate)
2 Informal class communications:
student to instructor
student to student
  • discussion forums for social interaction or informal Q&A
  • voice or web conferencing
3 Learning activities:
student to content
student to student
student to instructor
  • dropbox or assignment submission tool
  • small group discussion forums
  • blogs or wikis
  • Google Docs
  • other collaboration tools
4 Feedback:
instructor to student
student to student
  • email
  • online feedback messages
  • quiz tool or poll (Google Form)
  • rubric
  • gradebook

"Communicating with classmates and the instructor is a
lot different in an online course."
- Previous Summer Online Student

Tips for Summer Term Success

Summer is a more relaxed atmosphere for students to be in school, but the pace of classes can be two to three times faster due to the condensed nature of summer term. Online courses require a lot of discipline and time management to fully engage the materials.

Below you'll find a series of ways you can succeed in a class with an intensive pace:

  • Students need to give summer courses top priority. Although there are many fun things to do during the summer, students need to make sure these don't become a distraction from their classes. To be successful in summer term, use activities as incentives to finish your schoolwork, not as a reason to avoid it.
  • Mental preparation is key. Review course basics and buy your books prior to the first day of classes.
  • Block off time in your schedule every day for your online class. Because the summer term format is so intense, getting behind one day can be detrimental. It is important to plan work schedules and trips around your course schedule.
  • Study and form a study group (or hold a weekly chat/Skype™ session).
  • Personalize your experience! Upload an avatar, introduce yourself, and don't be afraid to interact online.
  • Ask questions often. There is no such thing as a bad question. Asking questions can help clear up any confusion and verify that course material is being understood.
  • Physical wellness is a must. Compressed, accelerated classes can be tough to power through. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating well, and giving yourself breaks from staring at the computer screen.
  • Manage your workload. Make a conscious effort to manage your time. Students who are aware of how they spend their day can maximize productivity, which makes staying on top of schoolwork (and saying "yes" to that beach day) easier.

"Take the course just as seriously as a face-to-face course."
- Previous Summer Online Student

"Much faster paced than a regular 15 week semester."
- Previous Summer Online Student

  1. Read this list of essential computing equipment that you should plan on having as an online student (courtesy of DoIT, UW-Madison's Division of Information Technology).
  2. Consider these other hardware recommendations:
    • Internet Connection: You should have a high-speed Internet connection via cable, DSL, or network. A telephone modem of 56 kilobits or slower will result in frustrating delays in access and download times.
    • Computer Specifications:
      • Windows: Windows XP operating system or newer
      • Mac: Mac OS 10.5 or newer
      • 1 GHz processor
      • 2GB RAM
      • Video card and computer monitor
      • 1024x768 screen resolution
      • Sound card and speakers

"Be prepared; there might be a surprise technology glitch."
- Previous Summer Online Student

  1. Perform a system check* on your computer's software settings.
  2. Ready your Web Browser for optimal functionality:
  3. Consider these other software recommendations:
    • Word Processor, Presentation, and Spreadsheet Software:
    • Adobe Reader to view PDF (Portable Document Format) documents in your online course(s); download Adobe Reader; note: it is recommended that you not select the optional offer for McAfee Security Scan Plus.
    • Java, a cross-platform product needed for some computer software and web applications that are Java-based (i.e., written in Java) such as online games, synchronous communication applications, and business and finance software. In order to run Java you need to install the Java Virtual machine (JVM); download the latest version and install.
    • Adobe Flash & Shockwave Players are required for use of some technologies; download the Flash Player and the Shockwave Player. Note: you might already have the Flash player, as it is bundled with most browsers.
    • Multimedia players to access audio and video files; choose one or more of the following player downloads:
    • Other software may be required by certain courses and will be communicated by your instructor.

*Please note: Although these few resources were originally created for use with Desire2Learn (D2L), they are also reliable for use with other learning management systems such as Moodle or Canvas.

As part of your orientation to online learning, you are encouraged to explore an Online Course Example.

Please note that this pilot course is in Desire2Learn (D2L), which is just one of UW-Madison's officially supported learning management systems (LMS). Therefore, it may not necessarily look or function like the online course(s) you take. A course example in Moodle (another supported LMS) is under development.


Please follow the steps below to log in to the Online Course Example using a Student Demo account.

  1. Go to the Learn@UW homepage (

  2. Select "D2L Visitor Login" on the left-hand side.

    Learn@UW Login Window with D2L Visitor Login Option Circled
  3. In the window that appears, enter these credentials:

    Username: student.demo2016
    Password: student.demo2016

    D2L Visitor Login Pop-up Window with Username and Password Entered and Login button circled
  4. Under the "My Courses" heading, select "Online Course Example."

    Subsection of D2L My Home with Online Course Example Circled

DoIT Help Desk

The DoIT Help Desk is the central location for all technology support needs and questions on the UW-Madison campus. You may contact the Help Desk via phone, chat, email, and in-person.

Watch this student testimonial of the service the Help Desk can provide.

Known Issues

Browse the list of known issues within Desire2Learn (Learn@UW) and within Moodle. Consider checking this list for a problem you experience while using a Learn@UW tool.

UW KnowledgeBase

The KnowledgeBase (KB) at UW-Madison is the university's central location for storing, managing, and locating knowledge and information online. The KB contains a wide variety of searchable information, including technical documents, directions, policies, and procedures. Below are a few of the most popular KB topics:

Security Precautions

It is highly recommended that you read DoIT's "Secure Your Computer" checklist, as well as this "Steps to be Secure on the UW Network" webpage, which offers a few additional tips and resources for computing security, as well as the email contact for any security-related questions.

Visit the Virus Information Center for information on computer virus prevention and removal.

Learn how to protect your data from viruses and unauthorized use.

UW-Madison has contracted with Symantec to provide students, faculty, and staff with antivirus and firewall software. Learn more about and download the Symantec Endpoint Protection software.

Find & Request Materials

Electronic Resources – UW-Madison Libraries offer all students access to literally millions of articles, technical reports, conference proceedings, and much more.

Physical Resources – Books, e-books, and physical artifacts are an important information resource available to you.

See more information on finding and requesting library materials.

Access at a Distance

When online access is not available:

Request electronic copies of articles.

Request electronic copies of book excerpts.

Request books from UW-Madison, any UW-System, or other libraries to be delivered to the library of your choice.

Distance Library Services are free services for UW-Madison students, faculty, and staff that reside outside of Dane County.

On Demand Research Assistance

"Ask a Librarian" via the libraries chat service.

Research Guides can save you time. Librarians have already selected good sources for hundreds of research topics.

Research Tips & Tricks offers quick help videos on all steps of the research process.

Citation Manager Software helps you organize your citations, automates bibliographies, and facilitates sharing with colleagues.

Student Disability Accommodations Requests

Accommodations and accessibility for students with disabilities in online courses are often different as well when compared to face-to-face courses. If you are registering for online courses at UW-Madison for the first time, you should take time early-on to think about and seek out resources about what online courses mean for you. For example, a single characteristic of online courses, such as flexibility in time management, can have widely different implications depending on your disability.

It is recommended that all students who potentially have a need to request disability-related accommodations become a McBurney Disability Resource Center client and meet with their online course instructor as far in advance of the start of class as possible. Accommodation service plans can be tailored for students taking online courses, and early meetings with faculty can be used to discuss the structure of the course and the delivery of the course content to identify accommodations that may be needed.

Where to Start
  • Become a McBurney Center Client
  • Contact the course instructor via the UW-Madison Student Center (accessed through MyUW) to get more info about the course and to discuss your accommodation requests.
  • Students may also want to consult their academic advisor to learn more about what to consider and expect when taking an online course(s) for the first time.
Information and Resources

Browse the McBurney Center's Services Listing.

Meet the McBurney Center Staff.


Phone: (608) 263-2741
Text: (608) 225-7956
Fax: (608) 265-2998

If you have any questions or comments regarding anything presented on this page, please contact us at:

Keywords:Summer Online Learning Student Resources Orientation   Doc ID:47063
Owner:Haley K.Group:EI: Learning Resources
Created:2015-02-11 14:38 CSTUpdated:2017-04-12 10:14 CST
Sites:EI: Learning Resources
Feedback:  23   15