While sitting behind a screen taking classes may make you feel alone from time to time, the truth is you have more peers, support, and ways to connect than ever before. Blackboard (2016) reported that there are actually over 21 million students taking online classes at a given time. Online students rely on ways to connect with each other and their courses. You are far from alone when it comes to online university learning and there are several things you can do to feel an even stronger connection with your peers and course material.
1. Treat online class like a class on campus.
This is a good all-encompassing guideline for staying connected. Keep a schedule of when you attend class online, just like you would an in-person class. Commit yourself to coming prepared for a specific time each week having done the homework, taken and reviewed notes, and prepared for the week’s material. Be ready to read course texts, participate in discussion boards, and ask questions. Of course, a key benefit of taking classes online is the flexibility of when you actually “go” to class, so if a consistent time doesn’t work for your schedule, keep track of the times you do attend—fully prepared—to ensure you stay up-to-date on the material.
2. Engage, engage, engage.
Remember that simply going through the motions is not enough. Researchers Strong, Silver, and Robinson (1995) found that students are productive and content in their work when they cultivate success, curiosity, originality, and strong relationships in the classroom. Set yourself up for success by participating in class discussions, asking questions, and responding to fellow students. The more you engage, the more you’ll feel connected to your peers and the subject, assert researchers Engstrom and Tinto (2008). Take advantage of apps, discussion boards, videos, and other technology that help you get involved—and remember to not only share your own thoughts, but also to interact with your peers’ and professor’s comments and questions.
3. Log in and reflect. Every day.
Logging into your class each and every day might seem like overkill, but keeping on top of new posts and content will only help your own success in the class, as well as deepen your connection with the online community. Because online students keep their own schedules, new content will arise at different points throughout the week. Avoid letting the posts pile up by logging in for at least a few minutes each day and reflecting on what’s been shared. Some days you may see many new posts and other days just a few, but staying on top of the information is key to give the material the time it deserves. Carefully read the comments and questions, then ask yourself reflective questions. Expert Arabi (2016) suggests asking yourself one or more of the following:
● How do my past experiences relate to this?
● How does this content help my understanding of the material?
● How does it challenge my own perspective?
● How can I apply this scenario to a real-life situation?
4. Work in a group.
Take advantage of one of the greatest resources at your disposal as a student—your peers. Online or not, nobody understands your class situation better than those also experiencing it. Beyond feeling more connected to the class, working with and learning from a wide range of perspectives will strengthen your own knowledge. Researchers Brindly and Walti (2009) studied the effects of students working in groups, notably finding “an enhanced sense of community, increased skill acquisition, and better learning outcomes” (p. 1). Take engagement with your peers a step past discussion boards and organize virtual study groups, study guides, and other ways to collaborate beyond the structure of the class.
5. Show your school spirit.
Sharing and taking pride in your goals helps you feel more committed to accomplishing them, so it makes sense that having school spirit and pride in your educational pursuits helps you feel more connected. Varsity Brands (2014) reported that students with higher levels of school spirit perform better academically, are more engaged, and are happier in general than less-spirited peers. So don your collegiate sweatshirt, share your educational goals with the important people in your life, and get ready to feel more connected to school.
With the wealth of resources available to you, don’t let a computer screen prevent you from feeling connected to your online education. Utilize your peers, technology, and open forum to get the most out of your college education experience.
Written by University Staff.
Blackboard. (2016 October 27). Retrieved from www.blackboard.com
Brindly, J. E., Walti, C., Blaschke, L. M. (2009) Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment.
Engstrom, C., & Tinto, V. (2008). Access without support is not opportunity. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 40(1), 46-50.
Strong, R., Silver, H. F., and Robinson, S. (1995). What do students want (and what really motivates them)?. Strengthening Student Engagement 53(1), 8-12.
Varsity Brands. (2014 September 3). Retrieved from varsitybrands.com