I’ve been working as an online writing tutor during the last 10 years or so, and this has helped me understand the feelings of isolation that so many students that I work with are experiencing.
I often hear my students explain that they don’t really understand their assignments, what it is their instructors are looking for, and that they only rarely will receive a response to their emails when they are asking for help.
Often they feel lost, so they are pretty grateful for finding me, at least a real person they can connect with.
Additionally, quite a few students have never ever visited, nor are they aware of, their school’s library, be it online or in a physical building, and this causes many problems when they are assigned research papers.
I have told many students to check the material with their classmates when having questions and their instructor doesn’t respond. What struck me is that often this seemed like a revelation to a lot of them. Apparently they had not been thinking of this option aside from their classmates’ postings that they feel required to be responding to.
The great digital age is here, and it is here to stay! It is incumbent on all of us to be fostering all sorts of individualized learning opportunities that are now available to us and all of our students. We now are required, must like our students, to create our own online communities.
Human connections, communication and a nearly limitless access to various resources are now more easily and readily available than ever before. The problem lies more in understanding and knowing what exactly to access and the best way to do so. Let me share some crucial points I’ve learned from working with so many of my late-night students:
- Human Connection So often, when I think about my late-night sessions with my students, I’m brought back to my own undergraduate years at Barnard College. Though I was living on campus at that time, my building’s writing center was having set hours, and every time I finished a paper around midnight, I couldn’t find any professionals I could turn to for advice, guidance, or help.
Fortunately today, many online students can access great tutoring services such as Smarthinking. Here they can text, talk, or even video chat with trained professionals in their study direction at whatever time is convenient for them. We really need to guide our students toward all these new available services. Here they can personalize their way of studying and receive a real person’s support as they are embarking on what may seem like an isolated and never-ending educational journey.
- Communication Online students don’t have the regular interaction that’s found in classrooms. Therefore, it’s important that they will learn in an early phase already about the best way to contact classmates, instructors, or study advisers, and at what time they best can connect with them. I just cannot believe that there are instructors who never respond to emails, and I’d rather believe that some students are having some pretty unrealistic expectations for communicating with their instructors.
I’m guiding my students to check with classmates to understand their course material better and at what time to communicate with their instructors. Online students should also learn better at an early stage how and when to communicate with their school’s administrators so that, when a question arises, they will be aware when and how to reach out.
- Access to Resources We are better able to serve our online students, and they will be more successful, if they will fully understand their school’s resources that are available to them there as well as through the large world of today’s internet. Instead of beginning with a Google search, online (and not only them) students can save lots of time if they head straight to the online library of their school and use the help function. They may even get support from a librarian in their specific field of study. Connecting to a research professional may be all that’s required to give students the tools they need to navigate his sheer endless world of helpful sources.
Sure, these key elements towards a successful education are nothing new, but the means to access them have dramatically changed. Today, it will not be enough to just have a computer and internet access if you want to be a successful online learner.
All involved, students, instructors, as well as administrators are required to adjust their expectations and commitment, and must be taking personal ownership over restoring the online campus again to an inviting and easy to navigate place to learn.