Online Learning– How Do I Talk to People?

iStudent Blog

Ready to go back to school? In an online learning environment, you don’t really go anywhere, unless it’s to the computer on your desk. For so many reasons, this can be really wonderful and convenient. With the fully online graduate programs offered by the SJSU information school, it means that I can go to school and take care of a family. It means that many students can work full-time and part-time and not have to drag themselves out of the house in the evening to go to class. It’s much easier when you only have to drag yourself to your computer. But what about building relationships with your classmates and your professors? What about class discussions?

Courses at our school have a class discussion component in which students post and respond in online discussion forums. This means that you can post your thoughts, respond to others and read your professors’ comments at your convenience. From my experience, there is no lack of liveliness in these discussions just because they aren’t live.

Live discussions are not totally absent in the online environment, however. Some classes have synchronous meetings via web conferencing (our school uses Blackboard Collaborate) for which you will be required to have a headset and microphone in order to join the live discussion. In many class meetings, you can also use the text chat feature as a way to talk with your classmates. This is a great way to ask questions or add your comments during class lectures and presentations without having to interrupt the presenter. Not all classes have required meeting times, and recordings of lectures or synchronous class sessions are available and easy to download and listen to at any time. (This is also a great way to review a presentation if you want to take more detailed notes or review material.)

In order to keep abreast of the class discussions and professors’ postings, I log in almost daily, usually two or three times throughout the day as I have time. But don’t worry, one day off a week isn’t going to send you scrambling to keep up. The idea is to plan and pace yourself according to the class deadlines.

Discussion forums and web conferencing sessions aren’t the only way to interact with your fellow classmates. In the courses I’ve taken, we had various group assignments that required us to write papers or create databases together. We used various online collaborative tools in order to make that happen, including, web conferencing, instant messaging, and even the good old-fashioned telephone. The school’s learning management system (Canvas) also makes it easy to connect with applications you may already be using, like Skype and social networking apps including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

As you participate in class discussions, you’ll get to know the people in the course, meeting people with similar backgrounds and experiences and those with a perspective totally different from your own. I’ve met fellow students who work in public libraries, academic libraries, elementary school libraries, corporate offices, and coffee shops. Some of them are volunteers, others long to do more with their teaching credential and some are planning for life after their little kids go to school.

Oftentimes, the online environment encourages more sharing, since sharing is not limited by class time parameters. In every class I’ve taken, the first discussion the professor starts with is an introduction. Since these postings remain up during the semester, I can go back through the introductions later and find, for instance, that the person who so strongly advocates early literacy programs has worked in the inner city schools of Los Angeles. It’s fascinating to meet (even if it’s not a physical face-to-face experience) and get to know people from all over the country and even the world. I’ve met classmates from Vancouver, Calgary, Dubai, Vermont, Mississippi, and Oakland, California.

Don’t let the online learning format make you shy. In fact, it can be a much easier way to meet people; you don’t have to worry about sweaty palms when you shake hands, or spinach in your teeth when you smile. Remember that you have time to formulate your thoughts, write them down and even proofread them before you share. This always makes me feel more articulate. The first class discussion and introduction is a great way to meet your fellow classmates, network and get to know the people and the world beyond your desk.

What are some of the ways you connect with people when you can’t meet face-to-face? Remember, don’t be shy.


For related content, check out:
Communication in an Online Environment– It’s a Little Different Here by Kari Van Baalen
Getting to Know Your Professors by Julia Chambers


photo courtesy of Ohmega1982


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