APU Careers & Learning Online Learning

Tips for Communicating with Your Online Instructors

communicating-online-professorsBy Angela Matthews
Faculty Member, American Public University

Adjusting to higher education can be a difficult transition, especially in the online environment. Sitting at a computer in your own home instead of a real-world classroom is often comfortable and convenient, but it might also feel isolating and even intimidating. Without other students and an instructor to see and talk to in class, it can be hard to know whether or not you are on the right track.

One of the best ways for students to avoid floundering around in the virtual classroom is to communicate with his or her instructor. Years of previous research suggests that faculty/student interaction leads to effective learning and contribute to overall student success. Interaction with faculty is a vital part of the first-year college experience.

Unfortunately, many students feel reluctant to approach their instructors. Some students might find it awkward, while others worry about receiving negative criticism and prefer avoiding any unnecessary contact. Still others simply do not like asking questions but prefer to find answers on their own. These are all understandable reactions, but a simple email exchange with faculty could help provide clarity and direction, ultimately leading to better grades and college success. Isn’t it worth it?

Reaching out to faculty does not need to be stressful, and it certainly shouldn’t be avoided. Faculty would never have become faculty if they did not like answering questions and helping their students. Research even shows that online faculty tend to be very student-centered, so they will not mind at all if you send them an email to ask a question. If there are any occasions when you have even the simplest question, or if you are unsure about an assignment, here are some general tips to help generate a positive response:

  • Be as clear and specific as possible. Instead of referring to assignment #2, write out the title of the assignment instead and describe the problem you are having with it. This will help direct your instructor to the answer of your questions quickly and accurately.
  • Remember to keep the tone positive and not argumentative. Remain professional, free of any hostile or accusatory comments.
  • If it will help to clarify a problem that worries you, feel free to share part of your educational history and ask what you can do to improve.
  • Forum postings are a good place to ask questions applicable to any students, but private questions only concerning you should be addressed in a private message or email.
  • Faculty hold office hours. If you want an ongoing dialogue in real time instead of waiting for email exchanges, attend the instructor’s office hours.
  • Do not wait until the session ends. Communicate with your instructors early and frequently.
  • No need to apologize for asking a question. Faculty want to help students learn as much as possible.

Being a college student is hard enough without the added complication of miscommunication. If an assignment or any aspect on your classes seems unclear to you, reach out to your instructor. A simple email can shed light on your questions and help guide you to a better grade.

About the Author

Angela Matthews has been with APUS since 2011. She teaches core learning and writes both fiction and non-fiction.

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