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How to build connections with instructors in online classes

Text on image: How to build connections with faculty online

Use this been-there-done-that advice from an Oregon State graduate to help you in your online courses

By Monique Lanier

Connections made during college can have profound and lasting effects on our lives. Most of the connections we make are with fellow students, but many are often made with class instructors.

I would not have been able to anticipate how the professors I met online through Oregon State University Ecampus would enrich not only my educational experience but also my development as a person. It was one of my Oregon State professors who suggested I apply to Harvard graduate school — something I had never entertained as a possibility — and to my complete surprise, I was accepted.

If I hadn’t reached out to build connections with instructors, I would have missed out on one of the greatest experiences of my life.

The most important thing to remember about your instructors is that they are people too. And, like building any new relationships, the key to a positive connection is respect and kindness. Keeping that in mind, here are some ideas that can help create opportunities to build rapport with your professors.

Do the assigned work and do it on time

This may seem ridiculously obvious, but it might surprise you how often this is overlooked as one of the most fundamental and effective ways to build connections with instructors. They work incredibly hard to create high-quality classes for their students. They spend countless hours researching and revising material for the syllabus, weekly lessons and so much more. When a student completes the class readings and assignments on time, it demonstrates they respect the instructor’s time, dedication and expertise.

If you are having challenges meeting due dates or other class requirements, make sure to reach out to your professor and let them know what’s going on. Being in contact about challenges you may be facing can alleviate academic stress and also be a bridge to connection. They may have solutions and guide you to resources you hadn’t thought of.

Engage with the assigned work

Your instructor assigns class materials and projects for a reason. Of course, assignments are meant to give you the necessary information, but that’s not all; remember, your instructors love what they’re teaching. They teach because they love to teach people about the subjects to which they have dedicated their careers.

So, if you want to connect with your instructors, engage with the material and projects they assign you. Ask them questions about class projects, the readings, the history and any current scholarship relevant to class discussions. Listen to lectures and ask questions when you have one — even if you’re nervous or insecure.

I found my anxieties quickly dissolved as soon as I focused on better understanding the material, rather than how “smart” I sounded.

Go to your instructor’s office hours

Just do it. Go. Ask more questions. Brainstorm ideas about your final paper or get help with that math problem. Get their advice about what you should major in or if you should go to graduate school. Ask them how they decided to teach and where they got their Ph.D.

If you are really inspired by the class and want to know more about the subject, ask them for further reading recommendations. They will be thrilled to share their knowledge with you, and you will have made a memorable connection.

And one final thing to remember that has helped me a lot lately:

Assume people like you

If you’re anything like most people, it takes a lot of courage to reach out and initiate a connection. Coming out of the isolation and fear during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are remembering how to connect with others. We’ve been through a lot. If we assume people like us, we’re halfway there.

Connections with instructors are even easier when we remember everyone responds well to respect and kindness. And the best part is that Oregon State Ecampus instructors are available and happy to help you.

Monique Lanier is a freelancer who also has a long history in writing, acting and music as a writer and performer. She earned her Oregon State University bachelor’s degree online and a master’s degree in theological studies from Harvard University. Read more about her educational journey.

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