How to Communicate in an Online College Environment

by Jane Wilde, Instructional Designer for Linfield College

Communicating effectively is an important aspect of any college experience, both online and in the traditional classroom. Navigating your way through interactions with your peers and professors in the virtual classroom may feel somewhat different. In this article, learn about appropriate online communication etiquette to boost your success as an online college program student.

Start by becoming thoroughly familiar with the technology and learning management systems utilized by your online college program. In most online courses, it is recommended that you use the management system to communicate with your professor and fellow students versus using a personal email account. Check the introductory information within a course to learn whether your professor prefers to receive questions within blackboard or through her or his email.

For example, Linfield uses Blackboard as its learning management system, and this is where discussion threads are posted for all students in the class to view and respond. Most often, these discussions are asynchronous, taking place over a designated period of time, such as a week, without requiring students and the professor to be online and responding in real time. Flexibility is the nature and greatest attribute of an online college program. Topics appropriate to discuss in the online classroom are generally related to the course, such as specific assignments and course material questions.

Blackboard provides students with the ability to send messages to everyone in the class, selected students or only to the instructor. If you have a question that is unrelated to course material—for example, if you have to reschedule an exam due to jury duty—sending a message to only your instructor is appropriate. The instructor will reply to you individually in this regard.

Using email outside of the course learning management system is another asynchronous medium that is often relied upon as an effective way to communicate with your academic advisors, school administrators, instructors and fellow students on topics unrelated to the course assignments.

Most colleges and universities will expect you to be reachable by email at the email address that you establish as a student of that online college program. Through this email you may be alerted to changes in assignments and important information about registrations, courses and graduation. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of checking your college email regularly. Setting up an “email forward” to your personal email address facilitates your receiving the school-related email quickly.

Communication between students and between the professor and students within the online college program is privileged communication, and only registered students in that course may participate.

Transitioning from an Associate’s to a Bachelor’s Degree

A community college is an excellent place to start your higher education, which can lead to a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university, or perhaps, to graduate degrees. You may ask yourself how you can make the most of your community college experience to be sure you are taking what you need in preparation for a bachelor’s degree. Where are the stumbling blocks? How do I get there from here? Frequently community colleges have transfer associate’s degrees or online undergraduate degree programs that fill many of the general education requirements for the bachelor’s degrees at the colleges and universities. This transfer degree plan can be the Associate of Arts, which includes math, writing, arts and humanities, social science, and the natural sciences. If you are taking business courses such as accounting and management fundamentals toward a goal of getting a bachelor’s degree in management or accounting, you are probably taking the Associate of Science transfer degree. Your community college may have a similar articulation of community college associate degrees with several colleges and universities in your region for the general education requirements.

Articulation is the term used to indicate that the universities have agreed to accept the community college courses in fulfillment of the same courses in the core or general education courses at the universities. Contact your academic advisor at the community college or the admissions department at the colleges where you are planning to transfer to make sure you have everything done as required, both for your associate’s degree or online undergraduate degree and for the university you will attend.

If you have a goal of attending a particular college or university, you may have considered several factors in making your choice. It could be that school’s rankings in college guides attract you. Or maybe you are pulled by family tradition to join relatives in attending there. You might even be the first of your family to be on your way to a bachelor’s degree. There are other considerations, too. For instance, if you are interested in accounting, international business, or health professions, search the websites of several colleges and universities to find out what kinds of degree programs are available and what courses are required to achieve that goal.

Let’s look at some new words or terms you may find during your research transferring from an associate’s to bachelor’s degree. One of the terms you may encounter is transfer course. A transfer course is one that:

  • Is rich in academic theory as opposed to skills (the how-to)
  • Is acceptable to the four-year college or university as having content of academic value
  • Is identifiable by its course number: the departmental designation followed by a number that designates this course as being acceptable for a bachelor’s degree by the college or university that you are planning to transfer to.

In most cases a transfer course will carry a number of 100 or higher, but there are many exceptions to this guideline, depending on the state where you are attending community college, so it is a good idea to check further with your “destination” school if you have questions.

In addition, a school’s website and degree requirements may introduce you to the terms “quarter” and “semester” as well as “quarter credit” and “semester credit.” These refer to that school’s instructional calendar and the amount of academic credit you receive for passing a course. When a bachelor’s degree is measured by quarter credits, it requires approximately 180-quarter credits for the degree. When a bachelor’s degree is measured by semester credits, it requires approximately 125 semester credits for the degree. Definitions of academic quarters and semesters below speak in terms of traditional college calendars, but some colleges have shorter periods of instruction than the traditional length of quarter or semester, so the same number of hours of instruction will be more concentrated in a shorter period of time.

The academic quarter is 10 to 11 weeks in length in a traditional community college calendar, and you participate in about 10-11 hours of classroom instruction per credit. Thus, if you take a four-credit course, you will receive about 40-44 hours of instruction for the term.

The academic semester is approximately one-third longer than an academic quarter at 15 to 16 weeks in length in a traditional college calendar, and you participate in about 15-16 contact hours of classroom instruction per credit. In a four-credit course taken during a semester, you will participate in approximately 60-64 hours of instruction. When you transfer your earned credits to a college with a different academic calendar, whether quarter or semester calendar, the Registrar at the new school will convert your credits to the system in use there. Thus, if you transfer from quarters to semesters, your number of quarter credits will be multiplied by about 2/3 to convert them to semester credits, because during the term you earned them, you received about 2/3 the amount of instruction you would have had in an equivalent course on semesters. You would receive 2 semester credits for 3-quarter credits. If you transferred from semesters to quarters, the computation would multiply your credits by 1.5, thus giving you 6-quarter credits for a 4-semester credit course.

Another important piece of information is cost. What will it cost per term or semester, and what will it cost overall to complete your bachelor’s degree? Also find out what kinds of scholarships and financial assistance are available through each school. If your grades have not been astronomical before, don’t give up! Federal financial aid is awarded to admitted students who are in good academic standing and are making satisfactory academic progress toward a degree or a certificate.The key point is keep making steady progress toward your goal, and when you become admitted to a college, you will have assistance provided to help you bridge the money gap.

The first step to qualifying for any financial help is submission of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which you can complete online. It does not hurt to list more than one school code on your FAFSA. Listing a school will enable it to receive information about your eligibility for financial aid and be ready to work with you if you make the final decision to attend there.

While we’re talking about cost, don’t overlook private universities because they appear to be more expensive than public universities! Oftentimes, private not-for-profit schools are comparable in price with public schools or, if they are more expensive, they have more financial help available than public schools, thanks to resources such as endowments and gifts from alumni. This may mean that your bottom line cost of attendance at a private college will be less than at a public college when you factor in the greater financial aid that is awarded to you. It is quite possible that a high-quality private college education can cost you no more than the public institution would—and you will have experienced a very high quality of education.

Perhaps you are transitioning from a local community college to an online bachelor’s degree program through a college or university in your region or in another state. If you live in a rural area, or if your work schedule demands out of town travel or variable shifts, this might be a convenient way for you to achieve your educational goals. Follow the steps outlined in this article just as if it was an on campus program.

Final words about transferring from an associate’s to bachelor’s degree: Look hard to find exactly what you are excited about studying with your career plans in mind. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Good luck!