The Online Classroom and Community
When we say the “online classroom and community,” who exactly are we talking about? The foremost members of your online classroom are obvious: you, your fellow classmates, and your instructor. In some cases there may also be a teaching assistant or other types of specialized positions such as peer tutors or course assistants. The members of your online classroom include anyone who is in your first line of contact for the course.
What exactly your online community is may be a bit hazier. The members of this community can include all those individuals just mentioned in addition to the dedicated resources available from your school but outside your classroom. People such as advisors, program chairs, and librarians, as well as individuals and groups from the wide world of the Internet, can be resources for you.
For each of these groups, let’s look at who they are, what you might expect from them, and when it is appropriate to contact them.
Instructor, teacher, professor, facilitator—whatever term is used to identify him or her, this person is the subject-matter expert who will lead you through the course material and give you direction regarding what is expected and what resources are available to you.
Depending on the requirements of the school, your instructor probably has at least a master’s degree in a subject relevant to the teaching topic, if not a PhD or other type of doctorate/terminal degree (EdD, DBA, DM, JD). In the online environment, instructors generally post a brief biography, as well as virtual office hours when they are available for communication, and their specific course policies. Information about instructor availability and other resources should be clearly stated. You will need to explore your online classroom thoroughly. Do not be afraid to ask questions prior to enrolling in an institution, and if you do not like the answers, consider looking for another school.
Beware of coming to your online classroom with the expectation that the instructor’s role will mirror what you have experienced in other classrooms, online or on-ground. Instructor roles can vary quite a lot in the online environment, by individual instructor as well as by institution. Some instructors see themselves more as guides and mentors, willing to converse with you at length. Others are only available to students for specific, limited concerns, and depending on the school, there may be other people whose role it is to respond to your questions or problems, such as learning assistants, preceptors, or course coordinators.
When to Contact Your Instructor
Communication with your instructor depends on the boundaries he or she sets. In general, it is safe to assume that, unless otherwise stated, you can contact your instructor for any of your questions regarding the course content, assignments, and activities. Whenever you do not understand a concept in the reading or discussion, or expectations are not clear regarding assignments, grading standards, or due dates, do not hesitate to contact your instructor. If you are having a problem on your project team or having personal problems that affect your class performance, contact your instructor as soon as possible to minimize misunderstandings.
For course scheduling, graduation requirements, or computer problems, your instructor is not the appropriate resource. Who is depends on how the school organizes its online academic and administrative departments. You might be able to ask your instructor where you can turn in these situations, but do not expect the instructor to address them.
You are responsible for exploring those other resources. It’s a good practice to find out ahead of time, so you are not caught in a bind. While you are exploring the online class, put together a course contact list and keep it close at hand.
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