Experience as an Online Student

by Anika Lautenbach

This is my second year in the Adult & Higher Education master’s program here at OSU, which transitioned from being hybrid to completely online a couple years ago. Through this experience, I have developed awareness of what instructors do that help me feel more engaged and supported and better able to succeed as an online student. I’d like to share a few of those insights with you.

Instructor Presence

The first thing I notice when I start a new class is whether the instructor has introduced themselves. My preference is an introductory video, though a voice recording and/or photo can be effective too. What I like about the video is that it allows me to imagine my instructor when I read their comments, announcements, and feedback. It humanizes that interaction for me and makes me more likely to reach out for connection and support.

My favorite instructor posted video announcements every week. It was fun to see him and get a sense of what we could expect from the upcoming week. It also helped me develop more flexibility with my expectations, since I felt like I knew him and could trust that he was doing everything he could to support our learning.

Conversations Early in the Term

As a student, I often think about what I can do to feel more connected to and engaged with what I’m learning. It helps to meet with my instructors at least once during the term – typically when the term starts. This often includes brief introductions and a conversation about how classes are going for me, what I’m excited or nervous about regarding this particular class, and what I need to be successful. Having this initial conversation makes me feel more comfortable reaching out later, especially if instructors create space for a meet-and-greet early in the term.

Contributions to Discussions

Online students are typically asked to complete many discussion board posts and responses. When you’re taking a class in a physical classroom, the instructor typically responds when students share their thoughts and perspectives. It helps when instructors do this online as well. As a student, I feel supported when an instructor comments on my posts, whether they are praising something I said or challenging me to think deeper. I look forward to reading my instructor’s perspective – it makes me feel like the instructor is there with us. I also appreciate that it models effective discourse for the class—so students see positive forms of engagement and how replies keep the conversation going.

Transparent Communication

It also really helps me when instructors are transparent with their communication throughout the term, like letting us know if it might take longer to respond to emails or other requests. If a busy time of term comes up, a brief announcement about availability lets us know the instructor is still here—they just need more time to get feedback to us.

Invitations to Engage

Finally, I appreciate when instructors provide feedback that ends with an invitation to share questions and keep talking about assignments. I try to respond to instructor feedback on assignments. I’m not sure if students always realize they can do this—that it creates connection and supports how much they learn from assignments. The instructor invitation reminds me that the feedback is a starting point and a way to begin an engaging conversation.

Additional Perspectives on Supporting Remote & Online Learning

I recognize that creating community and connection online can be challenging, and that it is even harder now given the conditions that have caused so many of us to learn and work remotely. Thanks for everything you’re doing to support students as they meet the challenge of remote and online learning.

For additional perspectives from undergraduate students, check out our Student Staff Picks: Instructor Support.

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