Thinking of studying an online Bachelor's or Master's degree but you're not sure if it's right for you? Worried about how different class communication and interaction will be in an online setting, as opposed to on-campus studies? And are you also doubting that you'll get the attention you need from your online teachers?
To answer these valid concerns, here are 6 things to expect from your online classes in terms of communication and class interaction:
1. You'll study online, not isolated
There are many ways to communicate with other students and engage in debates, change of opinions or learn what’s new. Interaction between students is quite lively in the course of the academic year. The challenge here will be to have initiative and ask any questions you may have and not leave class without understanding the topics discussed.
You'll also have to make use of some adaptability and learn how to use platforms and means of communication that you may not be comfortable with... yet. But you can be sure that any online class has some way of communicating with the class, with your colleagues and the teacher, either live or in written format through forums or email.
2. Blended studies also offer personal face-to-face interaction
Some distance courses offer blended study options with a few "in-house" classes during the academic year. This means that some courses, for instance, require students to be present twice a year at the physical university.
After introducing themselves to each other officially during classes, students usually engage in the informal debates and soon new friendships and sense of belonging to a distinct group of students may develop. Consider this list of blended distance learning programs.
3. Diverse ways of interacting with other students
One of the main characteristics of online studies is that prospective fellow students interact mostly using various online tools. In fact, these tools become the most crucial ones.
Typically, students frequently use email or forums – this is a very effective way of communication since nowadays almost everyone enjoys smart technologies (tablets, smartphones) allowing us to read and respond to emails instantly. Other widely used tools are Facebook and chat groups on apps like Skype, WhatsApp.
Skype group chats have become the centre of student interaction. It is not rare that in the evenings (but even during the working hours) someone from the group engages in the debate about some issues which may arise when dealing with certain topics/subjects.
4. Online discussions will help you a lot
This way students can constantly be up to date. Moreover, if they struggle with anything Skype or Zoom group chats provide a great deal of support and advice.
I should note that probably in Europe, Skype is the most widely used and preferred online tool (many students from all across Europe have mentioned Skype as a way of communication almost immediately after initial meeting up) whereas in the USA, (in my group there are two American students) other tools might be the choice of preference.
Mentioning Skype, I should not forget to say that tutors are also very keen to communicate via Skype. The drawback is their limited availability – normally they allocate a couple of hours a week for students to have a chat.
This brings me back to email communication and emphasis on its importance, at least in terms of interaction between students and tutors. And here we get to another point – guidance from tutors.
5. You'll get guidance and support from tutors
Because online studies are based on using various online tools it is only logical that the way of communication between students and teachers is exactly using the above-mentioned tools.
But that is only the technical side of the coin. What is more essential and of our interest is to learn if tutors can really get us, students, all the support/advice/guidance we need in order to successfully tackle all problems we might have.
All tutors and student support staff are usually very prompt in replying to all sorts of questions, be it general inquiries or particular subject/topic-related matters. The number one way of communication, as you might assume, is e-mail communication.
Furthermore, their guidance is well instructed in the general description of the course/subject, i.e. you will find all the information related to subject studied, grading scheme, deadlines, electronic submission of students’ work etc.
6. Sometimes students don't have all the answers
Do not assume your classmates will always be able to help you. Some of them might have done particular task already and will offer you advice, but believe me, sometimes you will feel that the advice from your classmates is not what you have expected or it simply does not help.
So do not hesitate and address all your doubts, concerns, uncertainties you have to your tutors. They are there to help you and are indeed happy to provide you with answers to all your questions.
Take advantage of the support offered!
I personally see the interaction and guidance from tutors as a pretty straightforward matter. Simply make use of all modern methods of communications and get engaged in the debates with your classmates.
In case you have any questions do not wait until the deadline for submission of your paperwork. Ask your tutors well in advance as this way you will avoid late response (which may happen if the majority of students will approach the tutors with questions at the very latest dates).