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How to Connect with Your Classmates Online

Posted on Wednesday November 7, 2012 by Michael Keathley

Have you ever noticed how each college class has its own personality? Much like the individuals in our lives, a group of students plus a professor tend collectively to display traits, such as being positive, engaging, friendly, or serious. Ask any college student, however, and they will probably be able to share a negative experience about a course with a disposition that was boring, uninformative, or even unpleasant.

Some of this becomes exacerbated by online classes because people have a tendency to submit to the typed words of the course site. They may see the electronic words in a discussion post or an email and forget that there was a person attached to it. The digital world can easily make a course seem lifeless and unfriendly.

Although as host of the virtual classroom, the professor bears much of the responsibility for making the learning environment a pleasant experience, the participants are also accountable. Imagine a dinner party with a wonderful host but guests who did not talk much, smile, or bring a dish to pass.

One way to help ensure that a virtual course has a dynamic and engaging personality is to connect with other classmates. Doing so will also help you become more successful academically. Here are three ways to be proactive and help your classmates come together for a more positive learning experience.

Build Community

Just as a participant at a dinner party should do, online students must also make every effort to reach out and connect with their classmates in a positive manner. This sense of community, of connectedness, has been shown to be indicative of online student success. A study published in the MERLOT Journal of Online Teaching and Learning concluded that virtual students tend to perform better when they are actively engaged in the course, especially in discussions and virtual conferencing opportunities (e.g., synchronous class meetings). These activities, perhaps, give students more time to get acquainted and to share in the learning process for their mutual benefit (Sadera, W.A., et al., “The Role of Community in Online Learning Success,” June 2009).

Helping to build this sense of connectedness, therefore, can be done as you complete your discussion posts or participate in a live event. Don’t just reply mechanically to the directions or to classmates as required. Try to do what you would do in person. The Imprint Training Center offered these ten tips:

    1. Smile
    2. Be appreciative
    3. Pay attention to others
    4. Practice active listening
    5. Bring people together
    6. Resolve conflicts amicably
    7. Communicate clearly
    8. Have a sense of humor
    9. See it from their side—empathy
    10. Don’t complain (05 October, 2010)

How can you smile electronically? Begin with a friendly greeting; end with a pleasant closing. Make use of the content between those to incorporate some additional interpersonal skills with classmates. For instance, thank a classmate who replies to your post; really pay attention to what they have expressed in their posts and reply thoughtfully. Try to “bring people together” by mentioning how one classmate’s post connects to the content of another’s response.

Make sure in general that your own communication within the course always displays that engaging personality you want your course to have. Others will follow your example.

Break the Ice
Something else to model in order to give your online classes a wonderful personality is to be proactive in breaking the ice, especially at the beginning of the class. Have you ever noticed how a discussion activity is assigned and no students respond for a day or two? In part, they may be thinking about and composing a reply offline; however, many online students are new to and/or intimidated by elearning. Whether it’s being new to postsecondary virtual education or anxiety about a particular subject, avoid letting your class lapse into a shy personality.

Again, think of an in-person social event in which the participants may not know one another or may feel awkward for another reason. What turns that situation around more than someone who walks into the room and confidently begins greeting others and initiating conversations?

Watch this short video by Indiana University’s Dr. Curt Bonk on breaking the ice and building community in online courses. His audience is the professor or “host” of the virtual course; however, many of these suggestions can certainly be accomplished by you as a dynamic, outgoing student who wishes to inspire the same characteristics in your course.

Watch the video a second time. Notice how confidently Dr. Bonk expresses himself. Think about how a video enlivens the content. Do you think you could be the student who initiates such a dynamic way of sharing your introduction in a discussion? There are some easy programs which will allow you to create a short video clip introducing yourself or perhaps responding to a discussion prompt as appropriate.

As you work to help build community, be willing to be the icebreaker that enlivens the personality of your online class. There is one more trait that will help, too.

Share Experiences

Online students tend to overlook the depth of experiences they could bring to the classroom. For instance, a quick look at their demographics shows that at an average age of 34, 81% are working and almost one-half have already completed at least an associate’s degree (2011). If you are one of these students, try to share examples from your own experience that help to illustrate a topic of discussion in your course.

For example, if you are discussing business ethics in your class, can you share an experience in which you may have had to deal with a dilemma? If you’re assigned a writing project in a composition course, can you connect it to a similar project you may have had to complete for your job? Can you offer some classroom success tips if you’ve taken online courses before? All of these experiences can not only be helpful to other students in the information they provide, but they also help to create an atmosphere of caring and helpfulness that are conducive to the class having a good personality. Most of us like caring individuals who are there for us when we need assistance.

As a student, especially in an online class, it’s easy to retreat into the shadows of the digital world and passively let someone else take the responsibility for the success of the class. However, if you wish to get the most benefit from your online postsecondary education, you must be proactive and do all within your power from the first day to foster an excellent disposition and outlook for all. A course with a great personality leads to academic and career success. The first step is with you.

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