In a traditional classroom, you meet your fellow students and faculty and create a real community; even it's only for the length of the class.
You notice when your classmates look upset or even who is there and who is absent. That's part of the community; it makes you feel connected, and it is one of the more enjoyable aspects of college life.
But can you get that feeling as an online student? The answer is yes and here's how!
It can be about your family (Are you married? Do you have children? Any pets?) and your life (Think favorite hobbies, professional interests, top five movies, etc.) in either your bio page or the introduction post. If you are able to post a photo, do so.
(Hint: Most course management systems reside behind a firewall so only your classmates, your professor and some of the administrators have access to this information and they are required by law to not share personal information, so it's a safe environment.)
You are not the only one who feels some sense of isolation. Just like in a classroom, some people are shy and some are outgoing. It just takes one person to do a little reaching out to create a community and you can be that person.
(Hint: Even if you are a little shy, you don't have to speak to get a community started online.)
In the beginning of class, find someone you'd like to get to know better and start up an email conversation with them. It's good to have a buddy in the class and it will help reduce your isolation. Keep your initial e-mail short and let the receiver know in the Subject line that you are from the same class.
(Hint: If one person does not respond, find another person to e-mail.)
Visit your course on a regular basis, just like you were going to class. Keep up on the discussion postings, turning in your papers on time, and do the readings. It will make you feel more connected if you are in the mindset of a regular student.
(Hint: Make sure to respond to e-mails as you would like others to respond to yours.)
Let your friends and family know you are taking an online course and share some of the things you are learning. Sharing will not only help you feel less isolated, it will help you absorb the information and make your online work more exciting.
(Hint: Don't bore people with your knowledge, just share a little about what it's like for you.)
If it's available, get to know your fellow students in the class chat room or through instant messaging. Ask your buddy to meet you at a certain time and use that time to informally discuss the class. Invite others into the conversation by sending an invitation to all your classmates — some may come and some may not. Your professor may notice and admire your commitment to the course which could translate into a better grade. If you have a team assignment, pick the chat room or instant messaging for one of your meetings.
(Hint: Some chat rooms have a record feature and your professor and all your classmates can read the transcript, so keep your comments positive!)
If you are assigned to a team, make time to do your best on the assignment. Even if your team can only meet for 15 minutes every week during the team project time, do it. You should use the telephone, instant messaging, or the class chat room for your team time. Save the discussion board and e-mailing for exchanging files and polishing your group project. You will get to know your fellow classmates and get a better grade in everyone gets to know each other, even just a little bit.
(Hint: Online courses call instant messaging, chat rooms, and telephone conversations synchronous, meaning at the same time, and call discussion postings and e-mails asynchronous, meaning not at the same time.)
They don't have to be in the same class or even in the same university because there are many similarities when taking online classes anywhere. Local public libraries, community colleges, and other places are good starting points for locating students. If you are unable to find people in your community, look online or right here in the eLearners community. Even if you are not interested in replying to a blog or a commercial chat, you will probably see some of the same experiences you are having appearing in these places.
(Hint: Check to see if your school hosts local meetings or events and attend them.)
If you are truly interested in the subject you are taking, e-mail your professor some very well thought out questions about the subject. Most professors will answer and be flattered you are thinking about the course beyond the assignments and activities.
Also, many professors enjoy sharing their expertise so don't be shy!
(Hint: Online professors can become mentors, reviewers, and references for later projects just like classroom-based professors.)
Purchase a sweatshirt with your online university's logo or slap a bumper sticker on your car. Believe it or not, just associating yourself with a school helps makes you feel a part of the school and once you feel part of the school, you will feel less isolated.
(Hint: Most online bookstores will sell you logo items right along with your books!)