The experience that you have as an online student depends on your own learning style and preferences. You can choose to limit your interactions with other students or you can become very connected to both classmates and the instructor. While neither approach is wrong, as an online instructor I have found that students who choose to interact have a richer education experience. Think contact, interaction and collaboration.
Contact Your Instructor Early and Often
If you have carefully reviewed all the class materials, such as the syllabus, announcements and assignment directions, and are unclear about any of the requirements, contact your instructor. Your instructor may have a questions forum or may encourage direct contact via a message system or email. Always address the instructor politely–as you would wish to be addressed.
You should also contact your instructor if you have questions that go beyond the scope of the class, such as about additional reading material, research you are interested in or career advice. Some instructors will be more knowledgeable in certain areas than others, but you will not know unless you ask. If your question goes beyond the scope of the class, allow the instructor plenty of time to answer, as he or she may need to address more urgent course-specific questions first.
What do you do if your instructor does not answer important questions, return grades within the required time period, or doesn’t seem to be present in the classroom at all? Seek help early–before it is too late.
First, ensure that there really is a problem by attempting to contact your instructor through whatever means are available to you. If there is no response after 48 hours, re-send your message. If there is still no response from your instructor–and no indication of activity in the classroom–it’s time to seek outside assistance. Information about who to contact in such circumstances is usually in the student handbook.
Interact with Classmates
The key to getting the most out of your class is to interact with your instructor and fellow classmates. Respond to comments posted by classmates and the instructor. Look for interests and experiences you have in common and share information that will help people get to know you. Your classmates could become your present or future colleagues and collaborators.
Read as many of your classmates’ postings as you reasonably can and respond with thoughtful questions. Making comments and asking questions will help to explore the topic further and may help to bring up new discussion points. Pay attention to which classmates respond to your comments and questions and consider continuing to engage them in future weeks.
Collaborate Beyond Class Assignments
Consider forming a study group to discuss issues, work on projects or prepare for exams. CybercafÃ© forums can be used to discuss topics of interest to the class, such as current events, developments in the field and job opportunities.
The more you interact with your classmates and instructors, the more you will get more out of each class and–ultimately–your program. Connecting with others socially and intellectually makes learning a much richer and more stimulating experience. A little initiative can lead to interaction and collaboration that you might never have imagined.
About the Author
Michelle Watts is a faculty director in the School of Security and Global Studies at American Military University, an adviser to the Sigma Iota Rho Honor Society, and a student at the University of Southern Mississippi’s International Development Doctoral program. Recently, she co-authored “Game of Norms: Panama, the International Community, and Indigenous Rights,” published in the Latin American Policy Journal.