8 ways to connect with online classmates
Sure, online degree programs are convenient. But if the thought of trudging through your coursework without the support of classmates and professors sounds lonely, take heart. Online students can log on and plug into a vibrant classroom community.
"It is only as isolated as you make it," said Erin Callaway, who is earning her master of technology in homeland security at the University of Maryland, University College. "The more interactive you are with your peers, the more likely they will be to interact with you."
Sean Green, who is currently pursuing his associate degree in criminal justice at the University of Phoenix, agrees.
"My family and friends were skeptical about whether I would really get to know people in these classes," he said. "They were very surprised that I met a great deal of people, and from all walks of life. Now even they are recommending online classes to other people."
8 ways to connect with your fellow students
So how can you bridge the digital divide? Here are some tips for ways to reach out and get to know your online classmates.
- Set up a personal profile. Most online schools offer discussion boards for each class, as well as general boards for the school at large. Start connecting with your classmates by completing your profile or bio. Including non-academic information such as your hobbies or favorite sports teams can make it easier to connect with classmates with similar interests.
- Bring interesting questions to discussion. Most online classes require participation in discussion boards. Don't approach this as just one more thing to check off your weekly to-do list. Discussion boards are a great place to ask questions, start lively debates and engage the imagination of your fellow students. Think about each post before you make it and always try to contribute something new.
- Jump into off-topic message boards. Most schools offer "off topic" boards where you can talk about anything unrelated to school. This is a great way to find fellow fans of your favorite band, share stories about your life and engage in fun conversations about current events.
- Send a personal email. If you connect with someone on the message boards, consider sending a private message or email. This opens the lines of communication even further and can lead to deeper discussion of the course material, as well as help build a friendship outside of the online classroom setting.
- Engage in conference calls. Callaway found that conference calls help her get to know other students in her project management class. "The calls do help me to feel more connected," she said. "There's just something about hearing another person's voice and getting to know them outside of the online classroom environment. There's also a bit of downtime as everyone joins the call, so we can have some friendly chatter before the call begins."
- Keep up your end of the bargain. When you are expected to join in a conference call, turn in a portion of a group assignment or participate in a discussion at an appointed time, always do your best to deliver. The more reliable you are in class, the more people will want to know you outside of class.
- Tap into social media. Almost everyone has a Facebook or Twitter account these days. If someone offers the link in their profile or at the bottom of an email, assume it's okay to connect there, too. This glimpse into their personality can help you get to know new sides of your classmates.
- Stay in touch when it's all done. Classmates are a potential source of professional connections. Just because the class is finished doesn't mean the connection is broken. "Even when classes are over, keep in touch," Green advised. "You never know when you might need their expertise."
Callaway has learned that connecting with students online can hold a wealth of pleasant surprises.
"I actually prefer online courses for fostering connections. I think that online learning a great way to expand your horizons by getting to know people you wouldn't normally meet, and learn from viewpoints and experiences from all around the world."
More about online degree programs: