Online classes can seem isolating to some students. Sometimes this doesn’t matter a lot if a student sees colleagues at work every day and spends a lot of time with family and friends. Social media also keeps people from feeling isolated online. Even with all this interaction with others, many students feel isolated and alone in online classes. To their way of thinking, there are no stops for coffee before or after class, or study groups, or appointments for extra assistance with the professor, or just simple chatting about things not related to class topics.
Students can, however, make connections with their peers in online classes and, in many cases, make new friends. I have friends whom I have never met in person and yet have known for 15 years, keeping in touch via email, phone, and chat conversations. Today, this is much easier than it was 15 or even 10 years ago when social media was not a communication option as it is now.
Here are four ways to make friends in online classes. Keep in mind that online professional relationships can provide excellent networking opportunities for future work.
- Introductions: Most online classes begin the first week with introductions. Some professors use ice-breaker activities specifically designed for online discussions. Other professors ask students simply to share their study plans, family (if they choose), hobbies, work, and so forth. Read the instructions carefully to see if responses to peers’ introductions are required. Even responses are not required, read all your peers’ introductions and respond to a few of them. When writing your own introduction, be as detailed as you are comfortable with doing. Most students write about their studies and work, as well as family and hobbies. If many of your peers are posting photos, consider doing the same. It’s nice to put faces with names.
- Create Connections: While reading peers’ introductions, look for common ground and then reply accordingly. Many of my students find common ground in their studies, their family activities, hobbies, and work. When I respond to my students’ introductions, I can always find common ground, even when I have 50 or more students. Every individual has something with which he or she can relate to others. Travel is a big part of my life and, having visited 45 states, I can always find a geographical connection with just about everyone. Other popular connections among students are music, movies, gaming, reading, and sports. The weather is always a great fallback; I’m surprised sometimes at how often students love to talk about weather similarities and differences where they live. Take the time and effort to reply to responses you receive from your peers. This is how posting and responding become conversations, and that is how connections and networking begin.
- Social Media: Most students participate with friends, colleagues, and family on social media like Twitter or Facebook. Many schools, and sometimes instructors in courses, set up a Facebook pages for their classes to promote extra interests or communication. If you find common ground with a peer in an online class, ask them to connect on social media. Friendships and professional relationships can then go beyond the space and time of an online class. Never underestimate the power of networking.
- Study Groups: Students who feel isolated can post inquiries to see if other students may be interested in meeting in the course chat room for study sessions. If you are feeling a bit shy about doing this, communicate with your professor. Often professors will set up study groups in a special space in the online classroom where students can share in a chat room (real time) or an asynchronous discussion forum.
Socialization and communication are what you make of them. If making connections for friendship and/or professional networking is something you would like to explore, then take the time to promote those types of peer and professional relationships.