Online studies open up exciting opportunities by eliminating place and time barriers to taking classes. Yet while the method proves convenient, the risk exists that students can feel more like independent learners than active members of an educational community.
“It is well documented the more socially connected students are to their university, the more likely they are to persist and matriculate successfully through their program and on to graduation,” says Shadel Hamilton, associate vice president of student services at Saint Leo University WorldWide. “Online students are no different. In fact, the need for connection can be argued is greater for students earning their degrees 100% online, due to the lack of face-to-face connection their brick and mortar counterparts routinely receive.”
If you’re an online student looking to boost bonds, try these suggestions:
The structure of online classes typically involves ample opportunity for students to participate in discussions or post questions. Take time to thoughtfully think about what others are saying, and then respond accordingly. Genuine back-and-forth brings topics alive and helps everyone feel like part of something bigger.
- Befriend a classmate or two
Take communication with fellow online students a step further by seeking out friends – people you get to know a bit more personally and feel comfortable contacting. A course’s online site oftentimes contains a roster of students and their email addresses, or you may be able to connect through social media. Drop a note to introduce yourself. Others likely will be thrilled you took the initiative, and having a buddy or two to bounce upcoming paper ideas off of or commiserate with about geometry proofs makes the online set-up less lonely.
- Interact with the instructor
Become more than just a name on the roster. Teachers want students to succeed, so don’t be afraid to reach out. Most instructors provide a variety of contact methods, such as email, phone, or video conferencing. Besides talking about the class at hand, they may be able to provide career advice, time-management expertise, and suggestions for other courses to register for in the future.
- Look for resources
Services exist beyond the technical help desk! From online peer-to-peer mentoring to weekly newsletters with tips for virtual students, institutions increasingly are finding ways to show they care.
Hamilton notes that Saint Leo’s offers a variety of virtual clubs and associations that students can join “without ever leaving the comfort of their home.” Some groups connect students with others in their major, while others center on special topics, such as military families. “The number of students who participate in both clubs and associations has increased 300% over the past four years, and there’s data to indicate this increase has had a positive influence on retention,” Hamilton says.
Finally, if your college has a physical location, consider dropping by every so often. Attending a football game alongside fellow Vikings or picking up a T-shirt at the campus bookstore can improve school spirit!