Interacting and collaborating online
With online chat, seminars, and social media, there are plenty of opportunities to collaborate. ‘When you’re studying online you can connect, see the projected content, hear what lecturers are saying, and post comments to ask questions or discuss ideas with other students connected to the same session,’ says Associate Professor Andrew Cain, who is Associate Head of Cloud Learning at Deakin’s School of Information Technology.
Lecturers also run weekly online sessions, which replicate on-campus tutorials. Michelle Cyganowski, who teaches first-year subjects in maths and statistics, says while you’re studying online you are encouraged to ask questions during interactive sessions. ‘I find that the chat function is used extensively and I usually respond verbally,’ she adds.
Content, as much as possible, is interactive, in real time, and easy to access. ‘If we are doing any group work in the seminars, we set up virtual break-out rooms for the students to work together in. These are also recorded and uploaded on to the unit CloudDeakin site so that students who cannot engage synchronously can access the recording at a time and place that is convenient to them,’ Volkov explains.
Contacting your lecturer online
Feeling isolated can happen to us all, especially when what we’re learning becomes tricky and there’s no one right there to ask for help. But virtual help is always at hand, says Assoc. Prof. Cain. ‘We had a Programming Help Hub that operated five days a week – with two evening sessions. Students could connect with someone at the hub via Deakin’s Blackboard Collaborate (online seminars) to ask technical questions that were difficult to solve using other means,’ he says.
Deb Lee-Talbot says: ‘Blackboard is a fantastic, real-time resource, which gave both social and academic interactions during the week, much like a seminar would for some students.’
Staff also provide contact in other inventive ways. Dr Brown gives personalised feedback on formal assessment via audio recording. But most feedback you’ll receive is informal and via social media, from both tutors and peers. Dr Brown has even gamified teaching: ‘Students receive experience points, digital badges, unlockable content, etc., as achievements for showing initiative and collaborating with their peers.’
Getting study support online
Studying online brings with it a community where peer support takes many forms. Study buddies, success coaches and online peer-assisted study sessions allow you to connect with an experienced student on Facebook or Skype. Online library facilities stay open late and you can access resources and programs that are relevant to your online study at anytime.
If you’re still not convinced about how socially connected you can be as an online student, take the advice of Jessica Bell, who studied a Bachelor of Psychological Science via Cloud Campus: ‘There’s so much support for online students and if you make the effort to join in groups, you may not feel isolated at all.’