Five Communications Tips for Online Courses
Reaching out to faculty members for feedback and assistance is sometimes intimidating for students, especially those who have online instructors they may not have met in person. June is Effective Communications Month, and there’s no better time to discuss how Georgia State Online students can achieve success in online courses by opening and utilizing communication channels with online instructors.
1. Smile for the (web) camera.
For courses with live class components, it’s recommended that students keep their cameras on during class. This small act helps students to engage more with their classmates and instructor.
“I know that is not always possible, but I think it helps generate more connection with the professor and other students in the class,” said Greg Loughlin, MSSW, a part-time communications instructor for the School of Social Work “There's more accountability when your camera is on, and more connection.”
For asynchronous courses without a regularly scheduled class meeting time, students should take advantage of other opportunities to connect with instructors and peers. Online instructors like Kristie Seelman, PhD, associate professor and BSW program director in the School of Social Work, offer live chats for students who want to discuss an upcoming assignment or reading.
And students can also engage with one another and their instructor through tools such as online discussion boards to enrich their learning.
2. Communicate early and often.
Online students who are struggling with course material or have life circumstances that are hindering their success in a course should reach out to their instructor immediately. The earlier a student contacts the course instructor, the more likely they can work with the instructor to get the support they need.
Dr. Seelman emphasizes the importance of students communicating with their instructors about any challenges they may be facing. Rather than waiting until final grades are posted, it is advisable for students to keep their instructors informed.
Loughlin echoed those remarks.
“I can work with a student around almost anything, but I have to know what is happening,” Loughlin said. “The student has to communicate with me so we can find a solution. I can't help a student solve a problem when I am in the dark.”
3. Use the right channel.
The right channel for connecting with an online instructor largely depends on the instructor’s personal preferences.
“Students should be familiar with course communication strategies, and if those strategies aren’t apparent on the course syllabus, students should feel free to contact their individual instructor for more information,” said Jennifer Hall, PhD, associate director for the Georgia State University Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning and Online Education. “They should remember that each professor sets their own communication policy so what worked in one class won’t always work in another.”
Some instructors prefer to be contacted through their Georgia State University email addresses, while others prefer to be reached directly through iCollege. Others have their own text messaging systems or apps set up for students in their courses. Reaching out through the right channel helps students ensure a timely response from an instructor.
4. Don’t expect an immediate response.
The final hours or minutes before an assignment is due is not the right time for a student to reach out to an instructor with a question. Each instructor has a different response window, which they will often communicate with students ahead of time. Seelman, for example, aims to respond to all student inquiries within one to two business days.
“If you’re used to texting friends and getting an immediate response, it takes a little bit of an adjustment,” Seelman said. “Your professor’s got a busy life just like you do, so they might not get back to you within an hour. It might take a day or two, in most cases, to get a response.”
Accounting for an instructor’s response time is important in planning when to complete a course assignment, and students are advised to start an assignment far enough in advance of a due date to be able to seek help if they encounter any issues.
5. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
Georgia State offers a wealth of resources for students who need extra help with coursework, so reaching out to a course instructor is not a student’s only opportunity for assistance. Still, instructors can help connect students to the right supports where needed and are informed about the options available.
“Professors can offer suggestions for support that might be offered by their department or the university, such as course-specific tutors or university centers like the Writing Studio or MILE (Mathematics Interactive Learning Environment),” Hall said.
Regardless of the question or issue, it’s always encouraged for a student to speak up to find the solution they need.
“In general, I just like to encourage students to be an advocate for themselves and not to feel that they’ve done something wrong in asking for help,” Seelman said. “That’s a best practice, actually, to be able to seek clarity, to get to know your professor better and to reach out to a teaching assistant when your course has one to get the support that you might need.”