Isolation is often cited as a knock against online courses, but it doesn’t have to be part of the experience. There are many ways to stay socially engaged with both your peers and your professors as an online student. Sure, it may not be as easy as just walking into class, but on the upside you have the flexibility of communicating at time and place that’s most convenient to you. And, bonus, you can even do it in your PJs.
So how can you make sure that you’re staying connected and getting the social experience you need from your course? Here are some tips to keep you on track.
Get involved in discussion.
Most online courses will have a required amount of participation in discussion boards each week, but going beyond this and really engaging in in-depth conversations can go a long way towards helping you feel more like you’re in a traditional classroom setting. Many discussion boards are asynchronous (meaning you’re not talking in real time), but there’s no reason you can’t take a lively discussion to another forum, like online video or text chat.
Ask questions when you have them.
No, you can’t just raise your hand to get help from the professor in your online course (at least not in the physical sense), but that doesn’t mean you should hesitate to ask questions if you have them. Reach out through Blackboard or email when you need help. The sooner you ask, the sooner you’ll get an answer. Establishing a relationship with your professor early on can go a long way towards helping you feel more secure and confident in your course.
Get some school spirit.
You may not attend your courses on the actual college campus, but you’re every bit as much as a real-deal student as someone who does. Improving your connection to the College can help you to feel more included and less isolated. Explore the College’s website, access the social media accounts out there, get involved in off-campus activities, or even just wear the school colors.
Use tech tools.
While most of your course interaction will take place in Blackboard, that doesn’t mean it has to be the only tool you use to interact with your fellow classmates. There are loads of apps and websites that can help you stay connected through video chatting, texting and working collaboratively, and adding any number of these to your digital tool belt as a student can help you feel like you have more options and greater access to support and communication when you need it most.
Create a group on social media.
If you’re like many people, sites like Facebook and Twitter are something you check often. Being able to use them to keep up with information and discussions about your course, especially on a mobile device, can go a long way towards making your online courses feel like a much more integrated and natural part of your life. If your course doesn’t already have them, consider setting up a way for you and your classmates to easily keep in touch, such as a class page on Facebook or a special hashtag on Twitter.
You can also use social media (especially LinkedIn) as a way to connect to alumni, professors, and students who have already taken your course. This can be a great way to broaden your social circle online and not only get help with the course at hand, but also network in ways that can help you down the line as well.
There are numerous tools that make it easy to study online together, you can find a fairly extensive list of them here. Take advantage of these and use them to skip a few of the solo study sessions and work as a group. If you can, you may even be able to set up in-person sessions with other students who live in your area (but don’t limit it to studying—you can also check out events, museums, and other things relevant to your coursework).
Make an effort to get to know your classmates.
Your classmates are a built-in way to avoid isolation in you course, so introduce yourself and make an effort to talk outside of the classroom environment, It can also be useful to share your own experiences and background in what you contribute to the course as a way to let your classmates get to know you better, as well.
If you don’t show up and keep active in your class, you’re going to lose many of the social benefits that even online education can offer. Visit your course on a regular basis. Post in discussions, Make an effort to keep up with course work. You will only feel more isolated the further you fall behind and the more you struggle to understand what’s going on in your course. Don’t let yourself get to that point.
There’s no reason online courses have to feel isolating. A little effort goes a long way in keeping you connected and getting the most out of your educational experience.