There are two levels of online classmate relationships. One is the formal requirement to participate in online discussions by the instructor. The other comprises the informal peer-to-peer relationships that develop between and among students. They are interdependent.
The instructor is the key. Unlike the regular classroom where communication is fluid and quick, the online setting is different. Online students come from widely diverse age and cultural backgrounds. Geographically they may be spread across the globe and different time zones.
The instructor must clearly define course requirements. He/she must establish a code of conduct. As well he/she should establish a distinct gathering place. Some instructors call this the “gathering lounge.” He/she should set up a class bulletin board where announcements, changes, exam schedules, reminders for assignments are located.
He/she should maintain an openness and support. Student concerns must be answered promptly, emails within 24 hours. Unlike regular classrooms, students can’t raise their hand and ask a question.
Support includes fostering peer-to-peer relationships. The instructor can post the names, professional affiliations and emails on the class bulletin board. He/she can set up an open discussion group where students can exchange personal information. He/she can encourage chit-chat on messenger.
As well, he/she should explain how to post a comment. Writing a good post requires thought and conciseness. There should be a title for each post. Students are encouraged to use tools such as Word with copy and paste for internet content notes.
Supplemental material can be posted to help students understand exactly what is required. These could include self-tests, student examples from previous courses and specific directions for completing a written assignment.
Overall, the instructor is modeling the behavior he expects from students online. The goal is to provide security and responsiveness between instructor and students. Being comfortable online is the biggest prerequisite to successful classmate relationships. Showing respect and interacting when needed is the best way for students to “feel” and develop friendships online.
Moving to informal peer-to-peer relationships we find a wide and diverse array of behaviors. Very much like regular classrooms we find students who are very social and seek out and enjoy making new friends. Others prefer to limit their interactions to the classroom only. These are personality characteristics and must be respected both in regular and online classes.
Online classroom relationships are more difficult because they lack face-to face contact. In addition, it is more time consuming to construct a written message than to say it. The written word cannot be changed once it is sent. It is extremely difficult to find written words that convey accurate feelings. There is no eye contact, no body language. The nature of the internet poses a threat to some persons. They are reluctant to open up themselves to relative strangers. Being open on the internet requires a degree of “risk taking.”
Some tips include sharing photos, engaging in chit-chat, humor and sharing personal stories. Try to make yourself “real.” Once the other person feels you as real they will be more open and giving. Facebook and LinkedIn, are being used for online classmate relationships. Groups are formed with “like” similarities. These interactions are low risk and an easy way to connect with classmates.
Colleges and universities are also using these social media to interact with students in orientations. They are using the “event” function and the “wall” to connect and provide information.
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