As an online grad student, I’ve been asked, “How do you stay connected to your professors and peers? Don’t you feel isolated?”
There’s a huge misunderstanding that completing online coursework means you don’t interact with anyone. In my experience, most online classes meet at least 1-2 times per month via a web-based meeting room like Blackboard, Zoom, or Skype. I’ve had numerous opportunities to interact with my peers during inter-professional collaboration education sessions, group projects, and remote study sessions.
While it’s not exactly the same as being in the same room as someone on a regular basis, I do still get that sense of community through digital meetings and classes.
That said, I recognize it’s not this easy for everyone and I have a few tips for my fellow online grad students to successfully collaborate with professors, peers, and support staff:
Day 1: Connect with Your Professors
From day 1 of your program (or even before you start!), reach out to your professors. I’ve found when I build a strong relationship with my professors, I learn more than when I read a chapter in a textbook or listen to a prerecorded lecture.
Remember, your professors were students once too! They want to talk to you about their areas of interest and your areas of interest. And who knows—these interactions may spark an interest to work in an area that you may have never considered. Take me, for example … I never would have considered working with adults with aphasia until I connected with my professor and learned how rewarding this type of work can be.
We have the opportunity to help people regain their ability to communicate with their loved ones. How rewarding!
So, ask pertinent questions and engage in a meaningful conversation with your professors to build a sense of community and purpose. Once you build that relationship, you’ll better retain the newly learned material and will be able to apply it during future clinical placements. My relationships with my professors led to a positive experience at my clinical placement where I learned to deliver evidenced based treatment for adults who experienced a traumatic brain injury and lost their ability to communicate.
My fellow grad students are located all over the United States—they come from different backgrounds and speak different languages. Some already have work experience in a home health or medical setting and share their work experiences as it relates to our current coursework. Everyone brings a different perspective and skill set to our conversations.
I find that when I engage with my peers during collaborative meetings, in-person clinical simulations, and individual study sessions, I’m able to learn and retain more information than if I’d studied in isolation. We’re able to exchange ideas and connect our readings and what we’re learning to real world experiences at our clinical placement sites.
We share our mistakes and help each other to come up with solutions so we’re prepared the next time we’re faced with a dilemma. For example, I learned about the VNeST-Verb Network Strengthening Treatment to be used with people with aphasia but wasn’t comfortable using this approach in a therapy session. After I discussed it with my professors and peers, I felt more comfortable with my delivery.
When in doubt, seek help from your professors and peers!
Find Refuge in Your Support Staff
Have you ever been asked to write a critical article review, but had no idea where to start? Perhaps you’ve found yourself buried in references while writing a research paper, but unsure how to organize everything.
Your school’s library and writing labs offer highly educated librarians and writing coaches that can guide your through the arduous process of writing your first of many research papers. Seize the opportunity for their help! You’ll find that each person is willing to bend over backwards and help if you just ask for it. Don’t be shy—ask and you shall receive!
At times, I’ve felt a little overwhelmed with all the responsibilities of taking classes online and working at a clinical site. But staying connected to my professors and peers helps calm that feeling.
The best advice I can give to other online students is to prioritize your time, study smart, and stay connected to your community. When you feel like the load is too much, take a break and reach out to a trusted professor or peer to talk. You’ll find your feelings are temporary, and nothing is too burdensome that it can’t be resolved with a little collaboration.
Hang in there and do the best you can—our communities are counting on us to provide the best care possible!