this semester i was hit with two online classes. i had no choice. it took me about 3 or 4 weeks to get organized and settled into a routine.
first off, get familiar with the software that the school is having you use. my school uses "blackboard", but i believe there are other programs out there. if there is a tutorial for the software--do it so you know what the program is capable of doing. we are able to send e-mail and have forum discussions through our blackboard program.
the way our blackboard program is set up, we were e-mailed instructions on the website to go to and how to sign onto the program and change our password if we wanted. we have a menu on the left side of the page and at least two or three times a week i sign onto the blackboard program and check the various menu items to see if anything new is posted. i've found that each instructor has a routine. one always posts our new assignments for the week on sundays at 12am. our tests are also online and we access them from the blackboard program. i have dial up internet service which has turned out to be a problem for me. during the first couple of tests that i was taking, my internet connection was terminated (damn phone company!) and i was immediately locked out of the tests and couldn't get back into them! i was in a panic over it. the instructors were understanding. i had to contact them and they unlocked my access to the tests so i could take them. what i've done since is take these online tests on a computer that has a good dsl connection. that would be at my public library or on one of the college computers.
read your instructor's announcements and postings carefully (i print them out) and pay attention to deadlines. one of the big differences with online classes is that there is no instructor standing at the head of a classroom telling you over and over that such-and-such report is due in two weeks. you have to keep track of it yourself.
i'm an anal-retentive nut when it comes to organizing. i set up a 3-ring notebook at the beginning of the course. i print out a copy of every new announcement or any e-mail that the instructor sends so i have a hard copy of it. i will use a highlighter to mark any deadlines to call my attention to them. if we are sent to a website (i call them "field trips") and there is some sort of assignment or little report we have to write about it, i will either bookmark the site, print the page if it's only one or two pages, or download a file to a flash drive that i have just for school stuff. one of my instructors has powerpoint "lectures" in pdf files posted on the blackboard. i down load them to my flash drive because they are easier to access than to depend on this crappy and unreliable dial up internet service that i have. our homework is done on word documents that are attached to e-mails that are sent to the instructor through a special "drop box" function on the blackboard software. when i am doing my homework, i keep it saved on the flash drive.
i think that just about covers everything. one of the big problems i have found is that some students (i'm in a small program and we all know each other--these online classes are new) are amazingly bold about asking for the answers to the online tests which we can take at our own pace for the one class. i've stopped letting other students know when, and if, i've completed a test early because of this. i've also found that there are a lot of students who are just bad organizers. we have 3 weeks of the semester left. a lot of people are so-o-o-o behind it isn't funny. the one instructor is very lenient and these students are really having to hump it to get done. the other instructor, however, has been consistently putting deadlines on assignments and tests. he removes our access to get into them after a posted deadline and if you haven't done the test or assignment, you lost those points. i have gone through a lot of paper and printer ink this semester as well. that's just because i like to have things printed out. if you have a reliable computer i think a flash drive with a fair amount of memory storage on it is the smartest thing you could have.
we did have one problem with one instructor who wasn't responding to any of the e-mail we were sending him for almost 8 weeks! after a whole bunch of students complained to the other instructor of the other online course (who we do see weekly) it turned out that there was a problem with the gadget he was using to forward his e-mail to him. duh! now, he has weekly office hour--a conference call. at a set time we call a toll free number, input a pin number he e-mailed to all of us in the class and we are all connected on a conference call. it's the only time i've ever heard this dude's voice.
don't know what your instructor will be doing in your case. this has just been my experience. i'm sure others may have had a different experience. oh, and i should mention that my other instructor has been very good about answering e-mails. if i have had a question i just sent off an e-mail to her and i usually get a response back by the next school day. hope that helps.