Q&A: Connecting with Peers and Teachers in an Online Environment

Answer: This is a great question and I'm glad to see you are concerned about getting to know your instructor and classmates.

Some online courses ask students to post a short bio, within the first week of class. This gives you an opportunity to share about yourself and learn about others. I suggest including: where you are from; where you currently live; year in college and major; future academic and career plans; and hobbies. Make sure to read your classmates' bios, as well. If the class allows students to respond to one another's bios, introduce yourself to classmates with whom you have things in common.

A good way to connect with your instructor is by sending him/her an email and introducing yourself. In the email, include your year in college, major and any points you're looking forward to covering in class. It's also a great idea to review the syllabus and course materials, prior to contacting your instructor so you can make references in your email message.

Almost all online classes require discussion questions. Discussion questions provide time for students to communicate with one another regarding class topics. It's also a way for instructors to track attendance and participation. I always encourage students to respond to the question and add any personal experiences relevant to the topic. You can also ask students questions about their responses (which is encouraged, as long as it's relevant and appropriate). This is another good way to connect with peers and open up discussions.

Make sure to communicate with your instructor when you have questions or if anything is going to keep you away from class (e.g. illness, death in the family, computer issues, etc.). You may still be held responsible, according to the late policy. However, your instructor should appreciate the warning and may be more willing to work with you, if you contact them first.

Through the above suggestions, you should be able to make great connections with your instructors and your classmates. It's important to remember, even though your class is online, you can still have a fulfilling educational experience. Just like everything else in your life, the experience is what you make it.

Dr. Beverly A. Browning has been consulting in the areas of grant writing, contract bid responses, and organizational development for nearly four decades. Her clients have included chambers of commerce, faith-based organizations, units of local and county municipal governments, state and federal government agencies, school districts and colleges, social and human service agencies, hospitals, fire departments, service associations, and Fortune 500 corporations. Dr. Browning has assisted clients and workshop participants throughout the United States in receiving awards of more than $250 million. Dr. Browning is the author of over 37 grants-related publications, including Grant Writing For Dummies™, Grant Writing for Educators, How to Become a Grant Writing Consultant, Faith-Based Grants: Aligning Your Church to Receive Abundance, and Perfect Phrases for Writing Grant Proposals. She holds degrees in Organizational Development, Public Administration, and Business Administration. Dr. Browning is a grant writing course developer and online facilitator for Ed2Go.com; former faculty member at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Organization Management and a current member of the American Association of Grant Professionals. She is CEO of Bev Browning & Associates (BBA, Inc.); Founder and Director of the Grant Writing Training, and most recently, the new Vice President for Grants Professional Services at eCivis Inc. (www.ecivis.com)