I’ve always told myself that an education is something no one can ever take from me. This thought carried me through my four years as an online learner obtaining my doctoral degree. It gave me motivation and reminded me that in the end, a diploma would be in my hands. The process of earning that degree, however, involved so much more than what words on a piece of paper could show. I wanted to get the most out of my experience because I was paying the tuition, and I wanted the knowledge. Part of that experience meant getting to know my instructors better. I wanted to know they were real, live people that I could learn from and lean on throughout my online education.
So, I went into the virtual classroom early to learn more about the course. I couldn’t ask enough questions, send enough emails, or make enough phone calls to my instructors. Yes, some would say I was an overachiever, but every additional morsel of knowledge that I could glean meant I would move on to another course more prepared. I wanted more; I wanted to succeed; I would not rest. I wanted my degree for many reasons, but self-fulfillment was a main one. I wanted my teachers to give me thorough feedback so I could be a better student, writer, and ultimately, teacher.
Now, on the other side of the screen as that teacher, I appreciate what connecting with an instructor means even more. Building a relationship with your teacher is more than being an organized, overachiever. It is the need and want to learn as much as you can, and with that, maximizing your experience as an online learner. Research by Rimm-Kaufman supports this finding. He notes, “Improving students' relationships with teachers has important, positive, and long-lasting implications for both students' academic and social development” (2017). A teacher’s role is not just to implant knowledge and facts, but also to stimulate conversation and critical thinking, and inspire students to see the world in new ways. In the online learning environment, instructors face the unusual challenge of not being able to see students face-to-face; they can’t tell by looking at a student whether or not that student is receiving a message as it was intended. Because communication between teacher and student is limited to discussion boards and emails, writing and tone are critical to success for both sides.
Researching Instructors Before Enrolling
When it comes time to choose the right college for you, make sure you check out the university’s teaching staff. Ask the university for the bios of the professors teaching the courses you’re planning to take, or better yet, review their CVs posted on the university’s website. Pay attention to the career experience listed on their biography.
You should also check how many research papers the professors have published. While research doesn’t necessarily mean hands-on experience in the working world, it does indicate that the professor has deep knowledge of a field – knowledge that can help you when you’re ready to start a career in that field. Peer-reviewed articles are judged by the professor’s academic colleagues, who determine whether the research is valid. This research tells you whether a professor is considered an expert in their field by their peers.
It’s a myth that online professors are not as adept or accomplished as their counterparts who are teaching in classrooms. In fact, they may be more experienced because they have had professional careers outside academia for many years, and they bring those experiences into the online classroom discussions. For example, at the University of Arizona Global Campus, a majority of faculty members hold at least one doctorate degree specializing in the field they teach, and they have professional experience outside the classroom. The University posts all faculty biographies on the school’s website, showcasing the diverse and educated faculty. If you’re interested in getting closer with your online instructor and peers but are not sure how to get started, consider implementing some of the following into your next online class.
Get to Know Your Online Instructor
- The instructor is there to help you and teach you. Ask them questions!
- Get as much as you can out of the course by asking the instructor about their ideas and experiences.
- Read the “Meet Your Instructor” section of each class.
- Schedule a time to speak to your instructor. If this is not possible, email your instructor and get to know them that way.
- If an emergency comes up, email your instructor immediately. Instructors will likely understand. We’re people, too, and want you to succeed.
- Be visible! When the instructor asks you something in the discussion area, don’t be afraid to ask questions back. Learn as much as you can about your instructors’ experiences, knowledge, and ideas. They may have published a book or articles in the past, and they may have a website or social media site that you can follow.
Participate and Get to Know your Peers
- Read over the introduction and get to know the course you are taking.
- Be in the discussion board area early to engage with your instructor and peers. When your instructor responds, go in and answer any questions. Be curious, responsive, and share your experiences.
- In your introduction, add a picture of yourself so your instructor has a face to go with your name. Tell them about yourself, and share your background knowledge and experience on the topic. Your peers and instructor will be interested in what you bring to the table and share with them.
- Be a part of anything you can: student clubs, webinars, conference calls, calls with your instructor, emails, etc.
- Begin working on and completing assignments ahead of time. You never know when emergencies or things out of your control will happen. If you have your assignments and discussions prepared ahead of time, you can turn them in without feeling pressure during a time of distress.
- Read all expectations (for example: due dates, requirements, and format of assignments).
- Read not only the course guide, but also the rubrics as you put your assignments together (ask questions if you don’t understand something).
- Check your email and the course room daily, and read any announcements or resources your instructor posts.
- Read the comments on your papers in the discussion area and in the summarized feedback. Instructors will give you great tips on how to improve for next time. If they don’t provide much feedback, ask them how you can do better.
Things to Remember About Your Instructor
- They want you to succeed.
- They are your biggest cheerleaders/supporters.
- You are an important part of the classroom community.
- They are here to support you in any way they can.
- They want to hear from you.
Building a relationship with your instructor that is professional, reciprocal, and engaging will help you as a student. Instructors are here for the same reason you are — to learn and to share. Your instructors are always there as you can trust them in helping you succeed in your online education. They can provide timely advice, coaching, training, and feedback as well as promote social and active learning. Learn as much as you can from each course and stay in contact even after the course is over. You never know who you will reach out to for advice, ideas, and resources in the future. As USA Today College puts it, “Professors are not only valuable academic advisors, but they are also a wealth of knowledge and connections when it comes time to apply for jobs or graduate school” (Varner, 2014). Take this information, and use it to your advantage.
Written by Tisha Shipley, EdD, Program Chair for Early Childhood Education Administration at Global Campus
Rimm-Kaufman, S. (2017). Improving Students' Relationships with Teachers to Provide Essential Supports for Learning
Varner, K. (2014). 4 ways to build strong relationships with your professors. USA Today College. Retrieved from http://college.usatoday.com/2014/02/28/4-ways-to-build-strong- relationships-with-your-professors-and-why-it-matters/