5 Tips for Online Courses: How to Connect with Your Professors

The number of students taking online classes continues to increase. According to a report on Inside Higher Ed, 33 percent of college students took at least one online course in 2017. Those who are enrolled in online coursework often mention flexibility as a strength of digital learning, because many students are juggling jobs, families, and other responsibilities. Others may pursue an extra online class or two to graduate on time.

Overall, more and more people are working toward degrees when (and where) it best suits them. Because strong professor-student relationships are essential for success in an online class setting, here are five tips for connecting with your online professors. If you are studying online, applying these tips for online courses can enhance your experience and increase your chances of success.

1. Practice Great Communication

Great communication is a life skill. The way you interact with people can help you build a network and might even land you a job. Whether online or in person, it’s important to make an intentional effort to communicate clearly and respectfully with your professors.

Consider these classroom communication best practices:

  • Be courteous and kind in all your interactions, remembering that tone can be harder to interpret in an email or discussion thread.
  • Ask clarifying questions if you don’t understand something. Professors welcome your emails, so don’t be shy about sending them.
  • Pose questions in a timely manner, leaving some room for the professor to respond. Don’t wait until the last minute—it might be too late.
  • Know your professor’s virtual office hours. If they’re not listed on the syllabus, ask!

2. Use Technology to Bridge the Gap

Technology has become integrated into students’ lives more than ever before. Maximizing its use can help you build relationships. And if you’re taking online classes, it will be built into the curriculum.

“In many online classes at APU, one of the first tasks or assignments is personal introductions,” said Mike Truong, Ph.D., digital learning architect and executive director of the Office of Innovative Teaching and Technology at Azusa Pacific University. “This can take the form of a short video. In one to two minutes, students introduce themselves to their classmates and their instructor, sharing their personal background, academic interests, and what they hope to learn in the class.”

When taking an online class, be sure to set aside time to learn the capabilities of the school’s online Learning Management System (LMS). For example, Canvas—the LMS used at APU—allows students to record videos, join virtual office hours, post messages about assignments, and much more. Use these types of tools whenever you can and log in frequently! They were built to streamline learning and interactions between teachers and students.

3. Acknowledge the Inherent Differences

Have you ever heard a funny joke, and then seen it written out? It’s not usually as funny, right? That’s a good way to think about the difference between in-person and online learning. Certain things can successfully cross over from the classroom—but not everything. When communicating with your professor online, it’s important to remember you’re using a different medium.

“When writing for online communication, read and reread what you have written to make sure that it says what you want to say,” advises Thomas Wilson, Ph.D., director of online learning at APU. “Avoid humor and sarcasm, because they do not work well in written communication where people can’t see the speaker.”

Respect for the medium and attention to detail ensure assignments and messages are interpreted the way you want them to be. You shouldn’t be afraid to speak up and be yourself, but you should make sure you’re doing so in a thoughtful way.

4. Be Ready to Learn Anytime, Anywhere

Next, give ample thought to what you’re gaining by using a digital medium to learn. Truong noted that online classes often provide a better platform for professor-student (and student-to-student) engagement compared to traditional in-person courses, where communication is sometimes limited to the physical classroom.

Unlike on-campus learning, you can send messages on your own time and reread feedback about your work whenever it’s most convenient for you. Some online professors even give out their phone numbers—if you have a question about homework, you can simply send them a text!

5. Take an Empathetic Approach

Professors often strive to put themselves in their students’ situations to better understand their needs and be more effective instructors. Using the same approach in your online interactions with faculty will take you far. In other words, think about what type of student you’d want to work with, and then try to be that person. APU prides itself on the strong sense of community its students experience, and empathy is one key to unlocking that sense of belonging among your peers and professors.

Interested in learning more about the dynamic learning environments offered through Azusa Pacific University? Visit the school’s website to explore its many online degree programs.