Part 1 of the “You and Your Professor” series about maximizing communication with college faculty got a lot of a positive feedback. One student asked if I could write a similar piece, but focused on the dynamics of online learning.
What a great idea!?
Distance learning platforms, sometimes called Learning Management Systems, have come so far in the last 10-15 years. The earliest formats were almost exclusively text-based discussion boards. Now, the depth and richness of the content sharing in distance classes is tremendous.
Because of the extent to which we all have an online presence now (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.), I have found students and faculty are just far more comfortable in the virtual classroom space.
But…that doesn’t mean there aren’t some issues you, as a student, should consider when interacting with faculty online. Here are some tips which might help you be successful:
Unlike face-to-face interaction, online dialogue (especially in the classroom space) often lacks the tone required to introduce humor, sarcasm or other subtle nuances to conversations. Attempts to do so are almost always met with great failure. It doesn’t matter how many emoticons or emoji you include in a post or message, you run the risk of ruining your professor’s image of you with one ill-timed or presented joke. Your best-bet is to keep your interactions professional. Before you hit “send” on a discussion post or message to your professor, pause for a moment and ensure your tone is appropriate and doesn’t leave room for interpretation.
Hiding isn’t an Option
Walk into any lecture hall and you will see a few folks who might be there in-body, but certainly aren’t “present” mentally for the class. Online learning doesn’t afford students the same luxury. I believe this is one of the reasons some students struggle in their first distance learning course. Not only do you have to be active, you must be visibly so…meaning, you must do more than just read what others write, watch any videos or presentations, or generally be a “ghost.”
You might not be aware, but one of the back-end features built into online environments for faculty members is the ability to quantify your activity. Each day/week, they are able to see how you spent your time online in the class—36 minutes viewing the PowerPoint, 15 minute on the discussion board, 5 on the group assignment, etc.
Knowing this might allow for you to budget your time better online to demonstrate your activity level. For example, if you choose to print the lecture for the week, it might only appear you spent a minute or two in that area, even if reading it requires much more. Make sure to be present physically so your professor cannot question your activity level.
Respond Well to Feedback
One of the great advantages to online learning, as opposed to the traditional classroom environment, is that your professor can provide you with direct feedback. This might come in the form of response to your postings, feedback on papers, or comments on assignments.
A natural reaction for many when they receive critique, though, is to want to defend their work. I would advise you to accept feedback from your professor, both positive and constructive, in a receptive way. Avoid challenging or defending your work and always maintain a consistent and respectful tone.
If you find you want to address a disagreement over a grade, I would always advocate asking your professor to schedule a phone conference or visit them during their office hours.
Online learning offers tremendous opportunities for completing coursework at a distance and around your schedule. In order to be successful, you must be careful in your tone, presence and interaction with your professors. Hopefully these tips will help you do just that.