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5 Ways to Feel More Connected

by Monica Smith

Jun 17, 2019, 9:00 AM.

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College roommates, classmates, intramural sports, campus events, clubs…all of these things are associated with the camaraderie that naturally builds between students who attend a university on campus. But what about those who are fully online? One of the greatest challenges to online learning is human relations. How do students get “plugged in” so their educational journey doesn’t feel lonely, digital and inhuman?

1. Group Chats Help with Stress

The studies are clear, students experience a reduced amount of stress and isolation when they are connected with other classmates and professors. This holds especially true for those who are freshmen, first-generation college students and also those who are international.

“Definitely make a group chat with your classmates. That helped me with all of my classes and kept me on top of all the homework and other assignments,” said fully online graduate student Erica Smith, who lives in Fort Lauderdale.

When a faculty member isn’t as responsive as you’d like them to be, it can increase the stress levels, she adds, and having that classmate connection can help. Many times, it’s a WhatsApp account, or it’s a small group, but whatever the method, said Smith, the important thing to do is to reach out.

2. Put a Face With a Name

Giancarlo Piniero, Smith’s classmate agrees. He’s a fully online graduate student who lives in Miami and while he finds chats useful, sometimes you need to go beyond that.

“I would say, take advantage of virtual conference tools like Zoom. Going beyond the conventional text or email goes a long way in increasing productivity, understanding and networking, with our fellow peers,” said Piniero who also suggests video conferencing with professors to establish better relations.

3. Force Yourself to be an Extrovert

It’s also good to create connections with classmates that have been in your classes before. Most classes will have an “Introductions” discussion posting. When you recognize a familiar face or name, acknowledge the classmate from your prior course and that you’re glad to see them again in your current course. You may even suggest exchanging phone numbers so you can text and help support each other during the semester.

4. Retreat to the Panther Den

Recognizing that the degree of contact, communication, inclusivity needed in the online interface correlates with student success, one of the newest FIU efforts being piloted is Panther Den. Panther Den is the student portal that offers direct access to some of the most useful resources the university offers in an online format. Currently launched within the Canvas dashboard, Panther Den is added as a “class” to all enrolled students’ dashboards for easy access. Through Panther Den, students can become aware of university news with student media. Students may also find and subscribe to tutoring resources through Panther Den, exercise videos, podcasts, and more. Additionally, Panther Den features information on FIU’s online success coaches, counseling and psychological services, as well as safety. New features are constantly added.

5. Play on FIU’s eSports Team

FIU is in the process of designing an eSports (video games) arena for its students and is developing its own eSports teams to tie into existing professional and intercollegiate leagues. This venture will allow the university to have virtual teams and provide online students the ability to play college sports for the university either at a competitive or intramural level. Online students will also be able to take advantage of the coming added structure the arena will provide to organize competitions with students at the university and develop meaningful connections.

Whatever way you decide to connect, the important thing to remember is you have to make the effort to cultivate your own college community. It has been said that, in many ways, we’re only as strong as the community that supports us.

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