There's a lot of discussion about why more and more students are turning to online education, but what are the benefits for educators? Just as it's a major draw for students, online education affords teachers more flexibility when it comes to giving lectures, communicating with students, and explaining lessons. While you will still have to put in a lot of time and effort into researching and uploading material and outlining lessons, you're not restricted to showing up to class at specific times. Online schools also give all kinds of educators – especially those who are still working as professionals in other industries – the opportunity to reach out to a broader range of students all over the country or the world, who may not have had the chance to enroll in and live at a traditional university.
Despite this increased access, challenges reaching your students and mentoring them the way you want do exist when you are all engaged in an online learning system. There's probably no way to find out what your students look like, and this barrier could make some students or educators feel disconnected from each other. And if you're not meeting in class each week, it's harder – if not impossible – to engage in the small talk or discussions that ultimately lead to a more personal relationship that gives you a more cohesive understanding of your students' background, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. College professors often serve as mentors for their students, not just in terms of grades or individual assignments, but for helping them adapt to living on their own and succeeding in the real world. Despite your physical separation from your students, you can still serve as this
When you first make contact with your group of students each semester or quarter, send them a friendly e-mail strongly encouraging them to communicate with you via chat, e-mail, Blackboard message boards or other platforms. Explain that communication is vital to their class participation grade but that you're available to discuss any issues that might be bothering them, that they want to explore academically, or that they're considering professionally. Once students start e-mailing you and responding to study sessions online, it will be easy to spot the ones who are more comfortable with online communications versus the ones who tend to hold back. Try to respond quickly to e-mails and posts so that students understand you are really paying attention to them, and be sensible about posting publicly or sending private e-mails if that's what's more appropriate.
When students come to you with problems, it's important for you to help them focus on the positives. Your job is to point out what he or she does well, and how his or her strengths can help solve the problem. Also remember that you aren't the only individual capable of solving a student's problems, and be generous with referrals to other counsellors, professors, and experts who you think would be a good match for your student. From helpful websites to friends of yours to teachers or organizations located in your student's city, you can help just by pointing him or her in the right direction.
Don't let the distance upset you. Even if you were able to meet with your students in your classroom and your office, you wouldn't be able to solve all of their issues. Open up communication lines early and always do your part to share your knowledge and respond quickly to their posts and questions. Being an online educator can be just as rewarding as teaching at a traditional university, and just as collaborative.
This guest post is contributed by Jessica Cortez. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: firstname.lastname@example.org.