Communicating with Professors in Online Courses

When you tell people that you’re an online student, one of the first questions you’ll probably have is how you communicate with professors. The comment may go something like “how can you learn new material when you can’t see your professors?” You could answer that professors record lectures you can watch and post updates in the BlackBoard, or explain how you use Adobe Connect rooms and discussion boards. “But still” they’ll respond, “you never see the professor!”

In a sense, they’re right. Communication with instructors is different when you’re an online student. You can’t raise your hand and ask a question during a part of a lecture you don’t understand, or stop by their office after class. You cannot, in fact, see them in person.

However, communication in online courses still can be as frequent and productive as on-campus courses, you just have to know that it is different. Check out three tips for successful communication with professors in online courses:

  • Don’t be afraid to email. When you have a question or concern about the course that is not addressed in the syllabus or on the discussion boards, don’t be afraid to send an email to the professor. Professors expect you to have questions, and expect you to reach out and ask. Be sure to be courteous and use proper email etiquette, including the course title in the subject of the email. Always send these emails from your course shell or your ASU account, as professors may overlook or disregard an unknown sender profile.

  • Set up an appointment during office hours. Online students may not realize that professors have office hours for online courses, just like they have them for on-campus courses. Office hours are listed on the syllabus and often available by appointment as well. Email the professor to set up a time to talk on the phone or chat over Skype - professors want you to succeed in their courses, so help them help you!

  • Utilize the TA. Most of the larger online classes have Teaching Assistants who help monitor the discussion boards and grade assignments. If you have standard questions about the course and you don’t want to flood your professor with emails, try emailing the TA for help instead. TAs have usually taken the course so they know what the professor is looking for in assignments and are usually further along in their studies so they can give you valuable advice.

Although the mode of communication is different in online courses, they can still be full of meaningful conversations between professors and students. True, you can’t see them in person, but with all of the technology and resources ASU provides, you can easily get the help you need to succeed.

Written by Emily Sosolik, Alumni, ASU Online Campus 

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