5 Ways to Connect with Peers in an Online Class

Last updated: May 13, 2020

Teachers long have known that the critical step in delivering knowledge is to engage the student. Teacher-student interaction is the essence of that. Students teaming up to problem-solve is the holy grail of the student-teacher interaction, with smart instructors leading the way and then stepping back to witness learning in action. It’s why classmates matter, and it’s why students determined to maximize their e-school experience should know these 5 ways to connect with peers in an online class.

In Classrooms and Online, People Matter

Brick-and-mortar learning is based on typical social interaction. Online, student-to-student interaction is buffered. There are video exchanges, and you can Zoom in (or use another form of live video chat), but mostly you’ll be communicating via email, Word or PDF documents, threaded discussion boards, or chatrooms.

The online format might seem a bit impersonal, but in a story titled “The Human Element in Online Learning,” Inside Higher Ed indicates that’s not the reality:

“That student who’s sitting far enough away in the lecture hall that you can’t quite read her expression amid the proverbial sea of faces? When you call on her in a live Zoom session, she pops up right in front of you, one on one, looking you straight in the eye. There is no back seat in online education – every student is in the front row.”

Here are 5 ways to connect with peers in an online class.

A female student raises her hand and waits to be called on in her online class

5. Become a Virtual Tutor

If you make learning look easy, you can make the process easier for a digital classmate. You can do it officially as a member of a team such as the USF Academic Success Center’s Tutoring Hub, or you can connect one-on-one informally.

A message board or chatroom exchange easily could evolve into tutoring sessions in other digital forums, or in person if possible.

4. Start a Virtual Study Group

If old-school study groups at a library or elsewhere aren’t possible because of distance or pandemics, or even if they are, connecting virtually with classmates to team up on tough subjects can boost grades and build camaraderie that improves the online experience.

Schools.com offers this advice:

  • Keep it small.
  • Keep it short.
  • Keep it focused.
  • Keep it quiet. (Broadcasting from the family rec room or a crowded café isn’t ideal for studying.)

As for virtual study group tools, Schools.com recommends:

  • Online conferencing tools: Microsoft SharedView, Mikogo, Skype, and Vyew.
  • Information sharing and document collaboration tools: CiteULike, Diigo, NoteMesh, Springnote, Wikidot, and Writeboard.

If your study group invite is snubbed, Schools.com recommends you go solo on the studying with Cramster, Grade Guru, Notelog, or OpenStudy.

3. Don’t Pass Up Opportunities to Engage

Don’t let a message board thread go without participation or a chatroom voice go unaccompanied. That back-and-forth can yield information and breakthroughs and boost the odds that those watching from the shadows will step into the limelight and add to the flow of information.

Showing up is important online, too, particularly if it’s a synchronous class. You have to be there to engage, and you must engage to learn.

Regardless of the type of class, your participation is essential for you and important for others. Interaction delivers the holy grail (student teamwork). 

2. Introductions Are in Order

If your instructor doesn’t ask people to share some personal information, step up to the plate. Some instructors ask students each to make a short video that introduces them to classmates. If the teacher doesn’t ask for a video bio, step into the breach and recommend it.

Emails are an option, too, when it comes to reaching out, or you can try to connect on social media.

Don’t forget the instructor. At the very least, share your academic/career plans with him or her. Personal knowledge facilitates the teaching process. And make good and regular use of virtual office hours.

A male student interacts with his online class instructor on a laptop

1. Get Comfortable with the Technology

There will be some room for technological trial-and-error, but it will be easier to connect with your classmates if you prepare yourself to use the tools of the virtual classroom. You’re going to need to know how to chat. You’re going to have to know how to optimize your audio. You’re going to have to know how to share a screen (and only the one you’re meant to share). And much more.

The Bulls had to learn Canvas (the main learning platform), eduroam (a roaming access service), Microsoft Teams, Office 365, and other remote learning tools. They got an assist from a support system that included instructors and the school’s information technology department. You’ll have more time, and you’ll have a support system. Use both.

And if you’re new to online courses, the internet is a goldmine of tips to help students succeed in the virtual classroom.

If you want to know more about the kind of support systems that helped the Bulls rapidly transition from brick-and-mortar to fully online classes during the pandemic, check out the USF Admissions Office’s website, or call 813-974-3350. The Admissions team is ready to help.