Creating meaningful connections with classmates and online learning may not always seem like affiliated concepts. It can’t be denied that there are arguments against online learning programs floating around specifically because of the lack of face-to-face classroom environments, as there “is no substitution for personal interactions” in a learning environment. While I do completely support the concept that student collaboration is invaluable, I also disagree with the notion that personal interactions and classmate collaboration is something that one gives up when entering into an online learning environment.
My experience thus far with the online HR Master’s program at The University of Scranton has proven my beliefs to be true as I have found that there are plenty of opportunities to connect with other students in the program. The online learning environment facilitates connections between students from all over the country which allows for the sharing of diverse perspectives on topics, especially within our weekly discussion forums. These forums allow students to not only submit their own answers to prompts provided by the professor, but also to respond to other’s posts in order to initiate further discussion on a topic.
What may come as a shock for those not familiar with online programs is that courses very often have group project requirements. Just as in traditional classroom environments, students (typically in groups of 3-5) will pair up based on shared availability and work together throughout the course on various projects. In order to succeed in these assignments, teams are expected to connect for at least an hour every week. Initially, this might seem like a difficult feat when in-person meetings are not an option; however, with increasing social connectivity and technology, there are plenty of methods available for connectivity. Some typical options include Skype, group text messages, emails, team discussion areas in Engage, carrier pigeon - you name it. The point is that groups have the opportunity to choose from a wide variety of options that best meet their individual needs and preferences.
In my experience, my teams typically corresponded through conference call meetings via Skype. We would initiate a group text chain early in the week to coordinate schedules, conduct our meeting sometime mid-week where we would plan out our responsibilities, and then touch base on Sunday when projects were due for review and submission. In my opinion, one of the greatest resources available for team projects in an online classroom setting is Google Docs. This allows for everyone’s work to be condensed into one document where each team member has access. In addition, students have the ability to write notes to one another within the document and even live chat while working through a problem. I feel that this tool always made a significant difference in our ability to be efficient and effective when coordinating work and organizing our projects!
There is certainly a level of effort that goes into facilitating these connections. I consider myself lucky to have been able to always work with great team members. Not only did we work well together through the project, but we would also keep in touch even after the class ended. Since starting the program two years ago, I have made incredibly strong connections with some of my past team members. Having such a strong core group of classmates provided a lot of extra support and encouragement throughout the program. I would certainly argue that the level of connectivity I have experienced with my classmates compares with in-person classroom experiences and helped to enhance my overall experience in the online HR Master’s program.