Online college has many advantages, including flexibility, cost, and the option to study while wearing fuzzy bunny slippers. But what if you want to, you know, actually hang out with your classmates? Interaction can be difficult for some online college students, but there are several ways to make the online education experience more personal. Whether you’re actually getting out there and meeting your classmates, or just connecting socially online, here are 20 ways online students can enjoy a more personal experience.
- School-sponsored meetups:
Coursera runs massive open online courses, with nearly 1 million students registered. Many of Coursera’s students will never meet face to face, but the company made it possible for some of them to enjoy an afternoon of fun and games together. In a "massive open cookout" 650 Coursera students came together to enjoy barbecue and face time. Students had the opportunity to meet respected professors, as well as visit with friends from their courses. Coursera is reported to be planning more social events to connect students in the future.
- Student-led meetups:
In addition to massive meetups organized by schools, students can organize their own study groups and social activities. Coursera students often create their in-person study groups through social media outlets like Facebook and Meetup.
- Creating discussion groups:
Some online courses offer social discussion groups that are held beyond the course program. Often hosted through social media, these groups offer a way for students to take the discussion beyond class, and even interact socially online.
- Networking events:
Online students who enroll in Yale’s distance learning program get access to perks like Yale West, a Southern California network that makes it easy for SoCal-based Yale students to connect with other Yale alumni. There are several events offered on an ongoing basis, including cocktail hours, group surfing lessons and a lecture series.
- Intramural sports and other local activities:
Colleges have begun to encourage distance learning students to participate in local intramural sports, clubs, and activities like a web-based student newspaper. Even if you’re not sitting next to your classmates in school, you can still have fun playing a game of Ultimate Frisbee together.
- Being "real":
Sitting behind a computer, it can be difficult to identify with other students as real, especially if they only know you as a screen name and your written words. But by opening up and sharing more, students can see each other as classmates to interact with. Sharing photos, interests, even linking to Facebook and LinkedIn make it easy to connect as a real person.
- Coworking spaces:
Doing schoolwork at home or even in a coffee shop might feel a little isolated, but many cities offer an interesting alternative: coworking spaces. In these spaces, students, entrepreneurs, and telecommuters can work side by side, enjoying camaraderie and a lively place to get things done. Often, collaboration and social interaction is encouraged, giving students a great opportunity to enjoy the benefits of online school with the face-to-face experience of coworking.
- Video conferences:
Although you may not be meeting in person, online classes can be set to meet at a certain time. Many online classes meet on a regular weekly basis, offering video conferencing that provides real time interaction, without real time driving. Other options include online forums, Google Hangout study sessions, and social media interaction.
- Real-time class activities:
Beyond video conferences, professors can schedule other class participation requirements that allow students to come together for discussion. Discussion assignments that don’t come with a set time may not be amenable to spontaneous ideas among students, but real-time interaction sure is. Setting up chats, or even requiring that students share their thoughts on the discussion board on a certain date or time may improve online student interaction.
- Small group chats:
In addition to course-wide chats, small breakout group chats can be effective in building communication and interaction among online students. Creating separate chat rooms for different subjects and groups may make it easier for students, especially shy ones, to come out of their shell and discuss the material.
- Virtual campus tours:
For online students taking courses from brick-and-mortar colleges, it can be a little strange to attend class without ever stepping foot on campus. With virtual campus tours, students can learn more about their campus from anywhere in the world, and finally understand what the quad and student center look like.
- Social media presence:
Through the use of social networking tools, many online students are better able to connect with their peers. Often, students find that they end up interacting more on social media than they would in a traditional classroom. Using social networking tools for online learning typically helps to build a better sense of community and increase satisfaction in academic programs.
- Group projects:
A classic of face-to-face classrooms, there’s no reason why online classmates can’t participate in group projects, too. Using online collaboration tools, students can come together to complete projects and presentations as a group, while at the same time enjoying a high level of interaction.
- Multimedia presentations:
Lectures that are boring in the physical classroom can be downright stifling online. Students and professors can get a greater sense of interaction and attention with presentations that offer a little more engagement, like audio recordings, simulations, and interactive games.
- Hybrid education:
Taking part in 100% online learning isn’t for everyone or every major. Some educational practices, like labs, require hands-on learning, and these offer a great opportunity for face to face experiences. With hybrid education, the blended format allows students to do some work online, with other work done on campus or in remote labs with fellow students.
- Document sharing:
Document sharing may sound like an opportunity for students to skip class and just use classmates’ notes, but with encouragement, this tool can be used to foster interaction and discussion between students. As they compare notes, students are able to better share and understand the material.
Building a collaborative environment in online courses is a great way to give students a more interactive experience. Professors can encourage collaborative mind-mapping, study sessions, and note-swapping to give students options for collaborating with fellow classmates.
- Freeing up campus time with online classes:
Online students very well may be on campus. For some students, taking a few online courses gives them better control over their course schedule, allowing them to better fit in extracurriculars like sports and campus clubs. Or partying and sleeping in, whatever the case may be.
- Private companies:
The Atlantic recently mused that private companies may someday step in to sell the college experience to online students. Offering study space turned social, even remote students may find college camaraderie live and in person.
- Building an active social life:
Much of the college face to face experience is all about making friends and building a social life. But you don’t have to go to a "real" college to do that. Students can join Meetup groups, volunteer, attend events, and use time that they’ve saved by going online to get out there and spend time with friends.