Unless you’re trapped in a 400-person biology lecture, standing out in class isn’t too hard. Sit in the front, answer questions, go to office hours twice, and you’re cemented in your professor’s memory. An online class is a whole different ball game. Without the personal connection of a traditional classroom setting, you’re just a name in a little gray box. Don’t just be a name. Make the effort to build a relationship with your online professor; your grade and your mind will thank you.
Don’t Just Post: Discuss
You may assume that online classes are easy. Just log on, post once a day and be done with it, but it takes more to excel. “The really good students are the ones who are responding to each other. They’re not just posting,” Dr. Kimberly Coles said. Coles, a University of Maryland professor teaches an online honors seminar, said that the students who are reading what others write and talking to one another not only gain more from the course, but gain the professor’s admiration. It’s like texting, but better—your GPA feels the love. Coles said communicating with other students shows that you’re taking the opinions of all your classmates seriously.
Write, Write, Write!
Online classes often focus much more on writing compared to traditional courses; video lectures and blog posts replace chalkboards and quizzes. Coles likes writing assignments because they make sure the student is “always present” and can’t “check out.” Since you have to write in to participate, you’re synthesizing and interpreting information instead of just summarizing like you would while taking notes. The writing emphasis is great for people who can already write well and offers great practice for anyone who doesn’t descend from Shakespeare. Write more and respond more; your professor will notice.
Undress Yourself (Emotionally)
No, I don’t mean take off your pants, I mean share IRL details. Online classes are naturally less personal since no one physically sees each other, but they don’t have to be completely impersonal. “I would encourage online students to not hide behind the anonymity of the Internet. The better I know the student, the easier it is to tailor the course to their interests,” said John Macintosh, a Ph.D candidate teaching online for UMD this summer. “It’s better for both of us if we establish ourselves as co-thinkers rather than content provider and anonymous customer…the online student really needs to reach out if they want the best experience.”
Embrace “Alternative” Communication
For some professors, email isn’t the best option. “Email becomes a chore pretty quickly,” said UMD online psychology professor Dr. Ryan Curtis. If you’ve ever asked a professor to explain something over email, especially a complicated subject, you know the likely outcome—a multiple email chain that spreads over a couple of hours. For cases like this, Curtis suggests his students kick it old school and just call him on the phone. He knows that hearing someone’s voice while hashing out a problem is not only quicker, but often makes it much easier for students to communicate exactly what they mean. Some professors will even video conference with you. (Please wear pants for that meeting.)
Go the Extra Mile
Professors universally despise getting questions from students that could be answered by a quick peek at the syllabus. Online professors are no exception—tech issues and excuses are probably the bane of their existence. If the syllabus doesn’t have your answer, look beyond. “I had a student taking my class from China and I had assigned a YouTube video, but YouTube is illegal in China,” Curtis said. The student emailed him asking what she should do, and by the time he emailed her back to tell her that he really didn’t know either, she had found a way to watch the video. While neither Curtis nor CM condones illegal activity, this student stood out to because of her perseverance and willingness to think outside the box. Try to figure out problems on your own, you’ll ease the burden on your instructors and build a good reputation.
Sure, online classes are different. You can wear PJs and eat your Captain Crunch while attending from the comfort of your couch. But, do yourself a favor and don’t be a stranger.