Professors play critical roles for students – as educational advisers, mentors and career guides.
Prospective online students may be concerned about faculty’s ability to fulfill these roles from afar. In traditional classrooms, students can be one of several hundred, but most online courses have fewer than 25 students, making instructors more accessible.
Still, you will need to be more proactive in an online course to build a relationship with your instructor, and doing so with those who can help you reach the next step in your career is key. You can plan to start this as early as right after you enroll or around the time classes start.
Here are five tips prospective online students can follow to develop relationships with their professors.
1. Introduce yourself before class begins: Generally, faculty members allow students to access an online course before it actually starts – introducing themselves and offering insight into the specifics of the curriculum. Course lists with instructors’ names are often available even earlier.
Google your professor to retrieve his or her contact information and then email and share your academic and career aspirations. Ask about the course. Your professor will remember you as well as your enthusiasm and focus on achievement.
2. Communicate directly with the professor: Most online classes require faculty members to have regularly scheduled virtual office hours via videoconferencing. These chats can help your professor get to know you in a live virtual setting.
Faculty members may also use technology such as email or social media to communicate with students. Expect responses within 24 hours.
Before you enroll in courses, visit websites that rate professors, and check if they are responsive to students. Professors who believe you are engaged in the mentor-student relationship will be more likely to help you in your professional and career development.
3. Ask for career advice: Prospective online students should look for professors who are also real-world experts and can provide practical information on how to advance their career.
These working professionals may know leaders in the field and be able to provide local networking opportunities with well-connected colleagues. Students in traditional classrooms often ask faculty for career advice in person; however, online students may feel awkward making the same request.
Once you are enrolled, don’t hesitate to do so. Instructors want you to succeed both at the university and in your careers.
4. Be strategic about building a relationship: Plan to take the time to proactively communicate with professors so you can demonstrate your interest in their courses, academic maturity and motivation to succeed. Ask well-structured questions. Refer to specific assignments or text material.
Likewise, aim to attend online office hours and submit your assignments by the deadlines. This way, when it’s time to request a letter of recommendation, your professor will know you well.
5. Meet in person: It may feel counterintuitive to suggest meeting an online faculty member face to face. But in reality, the personal interaction can often help cement a relationship between you and your instructor. Plan to visit the professor early on in your program.
The takeaway: When building a relationship with your online course professors, be proactive and take the first step even before you begin classes. The reward: a professor who is eager to facilitate your academic success and who is truly a partner in your career advancement and professional growth.