Virtual learning presents a unique set of challenges, particularly for first year college students. While there are many, let’s start with virtual interaction with your instructors. Not only do you have the usual challenges of knowing what to say and when to visit, you now are also faced with physical distance, too.
Visit office hours. Whether in-person or virtual, instructors have office hours. These are specific times that are set aside for students to ask questions, clarify material, and get assistance with assignments. Instructors may have anywhere between 2 – 6 office hours, and that will most likely vary based on what’s required by your institution or a particular department. When you go, have some very specific questions to ask that are based on your attempts to complete the work. Questions like, “I was reading and understood the solution to start like this . . . . , but I am not getting the correct answer. What am I missing?” or “I am not certain where to start with this type of problem. Will you help me get started?” both demonstrate that you’ve done some work and are not relying on your instructor to make it all happen. Those things make you stand out in your instructor’s mind.
Use chat to ask questions during synchronous class time. Honestly, you can ask questions of your instructor during class time whether your course is virtual or not. The key is to read the assigned text before class and to write down the concepts/terms/ideas that give you trouble, then use class time to fill in the gaps. Should what is shared in lecture not make sense, start firing off the questions. Just a note of caution: one professor told me they can always tell whether or not a student has read based on the types of questions they ask. When I began teaching I realized there is no truer statement. Read the text before you ask questions. That way, if you still don’t understand, you make it clear that you are doing the work.
Send email to ask specific questions. It’s possible that your class isn’t synchronous and using the chat isn’t an option. It’s also possible that you aren’t comfortable asking your question in front of the entire class. Perhaps you can’t make it to office hours. If you can succinctly ask your question, sending email is your best bet. This allows you to ask your question without the “eyes” of the entire class and still get the clarification you need. Some instructors will post the question and their answer if they feel it’s important for the entire class to know. When this happens, they won’t share your name, just the question(s) you asked. Take it as a compliment in the sense that your question prompted a broadcast response. If it turns out your questions is too complicated to ask via email, then make an appointment with your instructor or confirm office hours.
Many aspects of taking charge are the same whether your classes are virtual or in-person. Working with your professor to successfully complete a course will heavily rely on how you approach the work and how you approach your instructor for assistance. Even if you don’t have a lot of questions, it’s still important to meet with your professors to begin establishing a professional relationship. Not only do you want to work with professors to solidify your course grade, you also want to begin building rapport with those who will speak well of you and can provide recommendations. So use the method that works best for you. Office hours. Chat. Email. Try one and if it doesn’t work, try another.