Q&A: How Do Students Communicate With Their Teacher in an Online Course?

Answer: Most online teachers have several means of communication. Since you are taking an online class, the first type of communication available is in the virtual classroom. In a synchronous course, where students attend class at a set time and lectures are streamed online as they're being taught, students often participate in a live chat room as class is in session. However, most online courses are asynchronous, meaning students watch prerecorded lectures at varying times throughout the week. These courses typically offer both open and private forums for students to interact with one another and the instructor. Let's discuss the difference between the forums and appropriate communication for both.

An open forum can be seen by the online teacher and other students in the class. Sometimes the forum is labeled "Questions for Instructor" or it may be titled "Post General Questions Here." Either way, this is an appropriate forum for general questions about assignments, discussion posts, class policies and other questions that pertain to the class overall. For example, if you need assistance understanding how to do an assignment or where to go for academic research, this is the appropriate forum. Think of an open forum as a post to place questions that other students may have as well.

A closed forum is more private and the messages can only be viewed by the individuals sending messages back and forth. For example, if you send a message to the instructor, only you and the instructor can view it. This is the appropriate place for students to ask specific questions about their own grade or communicate personal information. If you are wondering why you received a specific grade and how to increase your points for the next assignment, a closed forum is the right place. If you need to communicate a personal or family issue that may be affecting your participation in the class, this would be the appropriate place to share that information. These are all things that should be addressed in private, not a public forum.

The majority of online schools also give teachers email addresses, or the instructor might use their personal email for student use. You can always email your teacher with any questions that arise. Some online teachers even welcome phone calls. If you feel there's something you need to communicate, that may lose it's meaning in a message or is too complicated or lengthy to write, call your teacher.

Again, there are typically several ways to communicate with your teacher in an online course. The most important thing is that you are asking questions and communicating any issues that are keeping you from your studies. Teachers are more likely to work with students when students are upfront and honest about their situations.

Dr. Beverley BrowningDr. Beverly A. Browning (Dr. Bev) has been a higher education adjunct faculty member for over 25 years. She has taught in the classroom and online for multiple colleges and universities including Spring Arbor College, Baker College of Flint, Mott Community College, and Rio Salado College. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan, Spring Arbor College and Mott Community College. She is currently an online instructor for ed2go.com (Cengage Learning). In addition to founding and directing the Grant Writing Training Foundation, Dr. Bev is also Vice President of Grants Professional Services for eCivis, Inc. She is the author over over 37 grant-related publications and a frequent keynote speaker and workshop presenter for national and regional conferences. Dr. Bev is a product of lifelong learning and an advocate for online teaching and learning!