by Kimeka Campbell
You can compare the Internet with a high-speed chase, as both students and professionals are constantly surfing the Internet to find all kind of information and build knowledge quickly. Sometimes, you don’t even have to chase for the information, as it will reach you anyway.
In addition, people may chase you for information and that may happen between yourself and your colleagues attending a distance learning course. Your virtual classmates four time zones away may want to meet or talk with you when it may not be convenient, or productive. Online degree courses teachers and instructors conceive various instruments and innovative ideas to get students connected and suggest the type of interaction they would like to see during online classes.
However, as an online learner, you should not be afraid to initiate the type of peer interactions that will enhance your online learning experience. The process of getting to know your colleagues in an online classroom versus an on-ground classroom have its obvious disadvantages. Unless you have the resources to fly from Germany to Thailand to meet a fellow student, there will be no physical face-to-face communication, but that doesn’t mean you cannot have an effective and fun discussion in the online environment, or even build a friendship.
Below you can find out more details and tips about:
- How can you approach your online peers?
- How to plan online interaction with your peers worldwide?
- Fun aspects of online interaction
How to approach online peers?
As a student who is interested in learning and developing, you will surely have something to share and offer to your peers during the course experience. By simply writing a short e-mail about your personal and professional interest, and asking about the interests of others, you are building a bond with the people that you will be working with over the course of a semester or programme.
Having a discussion is something very easy for us to do in the real world, but we hesitate in doing the same thing in an online format. This may possibly occur because people are always afraid of being misunderstood and of not being able to communicate the exact message they intend to deliver.
Here are a few simple steps you can use for a positive approach with your online peers:
1. Be transparent
As the virtual environment creates a wall of time and space between you and your peers, simply take the initiative and be responsive. For instance, you can write responsive and transparent posts that reflect the following sentiments:
‘Dear Karen, I read the homework last night, and had a few questions—I am not sure I understood it all. What was your take on the chapter? Here is what I am going to ask the professor. Oh, and by the way, I love your introduction! I hope you are enjoying the semester in Dublin! Regards, Susan.’
Karen may be a bit apprehensive, but hopefully, you have now encouraged her to know that it is okay to reach out and form relationships with others in the course.
2. Be responsive and take the time to reply to e-mails
When other students (and your professor) reach out to you online, you should take the time to respond. Just as in a physical face-to-face conversation, if you take too long to respond to posts and emails in our course, your peers will be discouraged, and this process will simply go on and on.
3. Be positive in your replies
It is important that you are as positive as you can, even in your critiques. Although it’s easier to respond harshly to someone online rather than face to face, learn to be sensitive and empathetic and give an honest reply while, at the same time, keeping in mind to mention the good parts or simply preserving a positive, happy tone.
Plan online interaction with peers considering the time zone difference
Time zones are one very important factor when it comes to facilitating effective distance online learning. In a distance learning programme, the situation is like this: students from four corners of the world, living 2,000 miles away from each other, take the same class. Most distance learners are not even aware of this fact until they take the course themselves and interact with their peers for the first time.
Time zone differences are not the end of an academic career for students who have never even left their own time zone, or for those students who have three children and can’t work at night when other classmates might be up and working in the course.
The whole process of interacting with your online peers takes a bit of planning. Maximizing experiences that you can have in an online learning setting with peers overseas means that you will have to be a time management expert-- and be very considerate when it comes to the time of others.
Example of online learning peer interaction:
Meet John and Malik. These two men have formed a great academic and intellectual bond over two continents while they worked together on a commercial design project in their advanced online business course. In order to communicate well with each other, John and Malik employ a few communication techniques to help them move along with their project.
John enjoys leaving detailed, but short voice notes so that he can share any pressing thoughts to Malik without worrying about how to write up all the ideas that were flowing through his mind at once!
Malik comfortably uses Internet calling platforms to conduct conference calls as needed.
They both use the document features of online email services to create documents in which they can both do work and share ideas (such as Google Documents). Together, Malik and John are able to build a great business design project for the end of their course. More importantly, the interaction and communication that has been established in this class, can help Malik and John in future courses with the same or future students.
Sharing cultural knowledge with online peers
One of the most interesting and fun things that occur in the online interaction with a number of people that come from various parts of the world is that you can expand your knowledge about other cultures, their celebrations, and formal and informal greetings. This can also have many benefits at your workplace.
If you are working with international students in a course representing 10 different countries, ask your peers to share the appropriate greetings with the class, so that the group can learn something fun and break up the virtual tension! If your instructor doesn’t do this first, don’t be afraid to. Many people are excited to share their cultures and teach you a few things about how to communicate with them.
In this setting, communication is the foundation of a great rapport and relationship with international students that will take online courses with. Next, add your willingness to initiate contact, and your responsiveness rate, and you are ready to jump into the classroom structure successfully. While this setting is sometimes perceived as threatening, do not wait until the last minute to get to know your course mates in an online setting. You will never know what information and knowledge you have missed if you do no take this risk!