Online learning can conjure up images of sitting alone at your kitchen table with heavy eyelids trying to get the next assignment finished and submitted before the midnight deadline; of feeling isolated and unconnected in your degree pursuit. But you can wake up from that nightmare, because today’s online education experience provides many ways to connect with online classmates that give you a sense of collaboration and teamwork rather than competing in an individual sport.
Let’s explore five ways to get the most from your online community, and then we’ll add some tips for getting creative with your online student networking.
The Classic “Introduce Yourself” Post
Your first interaction with your online peers will likely be through this introductory class discussion. If you are a newbie to the online learning platform, it may be tempting to make this an obligatory post that simply provides the required information. The temptation may be the same if you are a veteran online learner who has done this for the 10th time.
The advice for both is the same: Don’t let this first-impression opportunity go to waste. You never know who is on the other side of that discussion board – it could be your new best friend, a future employer or co-worker, a study partner, or the encourager you need to get through the class. Take the time to make your post engaging with information that allows them to find something in common with you - things like hobbies, general family information, interesting travels or experiences, goals, or cultural background. Also, instead of posting a generic photo of yourself, post one that says something about your personality or your interests – at a concert, reading a book, or playing tennis. And make sure you read and interact with their posts so you can get to know them. This is the first step in making social connections online.
Creative Tip: Engage your classmates with a game of Two Truths and a Lie. Tell three unique things about yourself, two which are true and one which is a lie. Ask them to guess which is a lie, and a week into the class, give the correct answer. This will stimulate some fun conversations early on.
Mix Up Your Discussion Responses
We all tend to gravitate towards people who share our views or have similar experiences. It’s no different in the online community. You will find classmates whose discussion responses you appreciate and enjoy more than others, and you may find yourself responding to the same people repeatedly. Instead, make a conscious effort to reply to those with whom you may not readily connect. You may be surprised at how much you learn. After all, a liberal arts education is about diversity of ideas and critical thinking; about the respectful sharing of differing views; about backing up opinions with facts and problems with solutions. So, establish a solid presence as someone who mixes up the discussion and engages all classmates throughout the semester.
Creative Tip: If your online platform has the capability, try recording a Zoom, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, or phone conversation with a classmate about the week’s discussion topics and post that to the discussion board for others to watch or listen to. It will add some personality to the conversation and break the monotony of reading posts for you and them!
Add a Social Aspect
You’re already using technology to learn, so why not use it to engage your educational community outside of the “classroom?” Of course, you always want to be discerning about the amount and type of personal information you share, but opportunities abound for making social connections online. Traditional social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter allow you to follow one another and post to each other’s accounts or to create a group for students to communicate. Other ways to take it social might include holding an online event or hosting a long-distance movie watch party through Netflix or Prime – who’s bringing the popcorn? But don’t forget the professional side of online student networking – making professional connections via LinkedIn is always a smart move!
Creative Tip: Schedule a weekly “Coffee Break” for classmates to attend. Meet at your favorite coffee shops and do a video chat to get to know each other and introduce your communities to one another. Who knows, your town (or country) may be your classmate’s next vacation spot!
Start a Study Group
Come together to get that extra boost to prepare for the next exam or to garner some tips for your research paper by starting an online study group. It will provide an opportunity for veterans and new students alike to share their knowledge and encourage one another. It can also help those who are struggling to not feel alone in their online experience and to more quickly adapt to online learning. Simply choose an online meeting network, assess the group’s needs, and decide how you’ll interact – then, stay focused.
Creative Tip: To make the most of the meeting time, come to the study group with a list of things you want help with or want to accomplish that session. You should also jot down any life experience or knowledge you have related to the topics being covered.
Take it “Off-line” – Visit Your Campus or a Classmate
If you live within driving distance of your university, make an effort to explore the physical campus and get a feel for its vibe; meet some of the people who make it tick. You chose this university for a reason, and you will be an alumnus one day, so find out why it is special. Another way to connect with online classmates is to meet up for lunch in the student union if you both live nearby. If you and a classmate don’t live near campus but live near each other, maybe you can get together for lunch in your own area, if it is appropriate.
Creative tip: If you can’t make it to campus but would like a tour, try contacting an enrollment advisor to see if they would give you a walking video tour of the university. Maybe you could make it one of your class’s Facebook events!
As the old saying goes, you get out of something what you put into it. That’s especially true of online education. Using these tips to connect with online classmates will help you become an online “socialite” in no time!
These tips are helpful for all online students. Read more about Ottawa University’s online degree programs today, and discover the wonderful opportunities that await you as you begin your journey in living a life of significance.
Contact us for further information about our online programs!