How to communicate with your professor

Of all the teachers you’ve had in your life, which one do you remember most fondly? Hopefully, you can recall a teacher who encouraged and inspired you and perhaps played a role in shaping the person you are today. College professors are also interested in positively affecting students’ lives by exposing them to new ideas and perspectives, by challenging their assumptions, and by getting to know them in and out of class.

In this section, we look at ways in which you can cultivate rich and rewarding relationships with your instructors because solid student-faculty relationships can be foundational to a successful college experience.

One way to get to know your professors better is to visit their office hours, which are specific times professors set aside for students to visit their offices or to meet over Zoom. Students choose to attend office hours for a variety of reasons, such as asking questions, clarifying concepts, seeking feedback, inquiring about grades, or procuring advice on a variety of academic issues. You can find your professors’ office hours and preferred method of meeting on their course information sheets. Professors on campus will post a phase sheet outside their office door. Here is an example:

Office Hour Phase Sheet

The terms instructor and professor are often used interchangeably because both denote someone who teaches college students. The distinction between them is minor, having to do with promotions and years in rank, not qualifications to teach in their fields of study.

Some of your professors are adjunct instructors, which means they work part-time at the college, while others are full-time faculty members who have additional responsibilities to the institution beyond teaching; regardless of adjunct or full-time status, all professors are appropriately qualified and credentialed to work at the college. It is often the case that adjunct faculty work full-time jobs outside the college and can provide students with real-time, real-world knowledge because they are practicing experts in their fields.

College students are sometimes surprised to discover that instructors enjoy getting to know students. The human dimension of college really matters, and as a student you are an important part of your instructor’s world. Most instructors are happy to work with you during their office hours, or talk a few minutes after class. They are also willing to respond to digital messages, talk on the phone, or engage in online discussion forums, course wikis, or personal journals. These are some of the many methods of communication you and your instructors can use.

Communicating with instructors can help you feel more comfortable in college and more connected to the college culture. Students who communicate with their instructors are less likely to become dispirited and drop out.

Communicating with instructors is also a valuable way to learn about an academic field or a career. Maybe you don’t know for sure what you want to major in or what people with a degree in your major actually do after college. Most instructors will share information and insights with you on these topics.

You may also need a reference or a letter of recommendation for a job or internship application. Getting to know some of your instructors puts you in an ideal position to ask for a letter of recommendation or a reference later on.

Because instructors are often well-connected within their field, they may know of a job, internship, or research opportunity that you wouldn’t otherwise know about. An instructor who knows you is a valuable part of your network. Networking is important for future job searches and other opportunities. In fact, most jobs are found through networking, not through classified ads or online job postings.

Being “educated” affects how one thinks, understands society and the world, and responds to problems and new situations. Much of this learning occurs outside of the formal class. Communicating with your instructors can be among your most meaningful experiences in college.

Getting along with instructors and communicating well begins with a good attitude. As experts in their field, instructors deserve respect. Remember a college education is a collaborative process that works best when students and instructors communicate freely in an exchange of ideas, information, and perspectives. So while it pays to respect your instructors, there is no need to fear them. As you get to know them better, you’ll learn their personalities and find appropriate ways to talk to them.

Below are some guidelines for communicating with your instructors:

  • Prepare before meeting with the instructor. To get the most out of the time you are speaking with your professor, go over your notes on readings and lectures and write down your specific questions. You’ll feel more comfortable, and the instructor will appreciate your organization. Often times, clarification of course content, assignments, or grades only takes a few minutes. See your professor early, so you can stay on track with the course.
  • Introduce yourself. Especially near the beginning of the term, don’t assume that your instructor has learned everyone’s name yet. Unless the instructor has already asked you to address him or her as “Dr. ____,” “Ms. _____,” or Mr. _______,” or something similar, it’s appropriate to say “Professor _______.”
  • Respect the instructor’s time. Be sure to attend your scheduled meeting on time. Try not to cancel meetings, but f you you have to, make sure you send an email well in advance.
  • Be professional. Come to office hours with your questions ready, and don’t wear sunglasses or earphones or check your cell phone for messages. Be prepared to accept constructive criticism in a professional way.
  • Use office hours. Office hours are a great way to have one on one time with your professor. When thinking about whether or not to bring something up in class, consider if your question is something the entire class would benefit from hearing. If your question or comment is pertains to only you, try to speak with your professor individually. For example, if you need to miss class for a family emergency or you want to discuss your grade, see your professor before class, after class, or during office hours. If that is not possible, send an email.
  • Know your professors want you to be successful. If you are feeling hesitant about approaching your professor, remember that you are in college to learn, and you have valuable thoughts. If you are wondering about something, chances are, other classmates are wondering too, so ask questions often and early.

Check out this interactive quiz about communicating with your instructors outside of class:

EMailing Your Professor

Using the information from the text about how to communicate with instructors and what you learned not to do based on the video, create a checklist of what is needed in an effective email to instructors.

Effective and professional communication between students and professors is incredibly important.

Communicating with Professors

Chances are professors will explain their preferred method of communication in the syllabus. Adhering to communication policies is key to success in the course. You should pay particular attention to:

How to Communicate with Professors

Your professor will likely give you their email address, but occasionally may provide an office phone or cell phone number. In the college setting, email is generally the preferred method of communication, but sometimes phone calls are more efficient ways of asking or answering questions. Think about the best ways to use each contact. For example, if you have a question about the course material you are studying for a test the next day and you send an email at 1:00 AM to your professor, it is unlikely that they will answer this question until the next morning or may not be able to answer before the test. Let’s say you are a distance student and your professor provides you with their cell number. If you are working on a paper at 7:00 PM in California, remember it is 10:00 PM on the East Coast, so think before you pick up the phone.

When to Communicate with Professors

The professor will let you know when tests are taking place and when papers are due. It is then your responsibility to plan ahead. For example, if you have a paper due on Saturday at midnight, make sure you begin earlier in the week. The professor is more likely to respond to an email Friday morning rather than just a few hours before the essay is due. Think of this popular saying: “Poor planning on your part is not an emergency on my part.”

How to Write Effective Emails

When you are communicating with your professors via email or other online communication, it can sometimes be tricky because you cannot read a person’s facial expression or hear their tone of voice, but you should endeavor to make each communication professional and meaningful. This is especially important for students in distance classes as you may never “meet” the professor or your classmates face to face, but still want to interact with professionally and effectively with others. Here are some tips:

Review Emails Before Sending

If you are writing an email to a professor about something potentially uncomfortable such as a grade challenge or extension, read your email aloud to yourself or a friend before sending it. This way, you can pick up some of the nuances in your writing and ensure that the correct message and tone are getting across to the recipient.

Check Your Grammar and Spelling

When writing an email, start off with a greeting (Dear Professor Smith, Good afternoon, Hello Dr. Jones, etc.) and do a quick spell check before sending it off.

Do You Need to Ask this Question?

Professors encourage their students to ask questions, but when the answer is clearly written in the syllabus or on the course site, there is a chance your professor will become frustrated. Check the course site first before reaching out. Then, try to ask your questions clearly and concisely.

This article was co-authored by Katie Styzek. Katie Styzek is a Professional School Counselor for Chicago Public Schools. Katie earned a BS in Elementary Education with a Concentration in Mathematics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She served as a middle school mathematics, science, and social studies teacher for three years prior to becoming a counselor. She holds a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in School Counseling from DePaul University and an MA in Educational Leadership from Northeastern Illinois University. Katie holds an Illinois School Counselor Endorsement License (Type 73 Service Personnel), an Illinois Principal License (formerly Type 75), and an Illinois Elementary Education Teaching License (Type 03, K – 9). She is also Nationally Board Certified in School Counseling from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 33,219 times.

Speaking with your professor can seem intimidating, but part of your professor’s job is to help students learn. Communicating honestly with your professor when you have questions, concerns, or ideas will help you get the most out of your courses. If you get nervous thinking about speaking with your professor, choosing the right method of communication and preparing what you want to say can assist you in getting the most from your time with your instructor.

Learning how to communicate with a professor can help you in college and beyond. Here, we outline everything you need to know.

October 26, 2021

How to communicate with your professor

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Emailing a professor remains one of the most efficient ways students can establish an open channel of communication outside the classroom. An email allows enrollees to gather and communicate their thoughts with clarity and concision. In addition, an email provides a record of communication, and professors can reply at their convenience. Well-developed digital communication skills serve students in school and in their professional careers.

This guide focuses on the benefits of developing effective communication skills when contacting professors.

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How Connecting with Professors Will Benefit You

Professors keep consultation hours to help students with issues not addressed in the classroom. Outside of these hours, students can often contact their professors through email. Taking the time to connect with professors yields several benefits that can last beyond college, including the three advantages described below.

For recent graduates applying for their first job and early career professionals, employers often accept recommendation letters from school personnel, including college professors. Graduate schools also typically require applicants to submit recommendation letters. Many graduate schools specifically ask for recommendations from college professors who can vouch for the applicant’s academic abilities. Professors usually discover internship and professional opportunities in their field of practice. They typically share these opportunities with capable students and recent graduates they know of who express interest in pursuing such options. Even after graduation, early career practitioners benefit from professional advice from knowledgeable professors who hold experience in their field of study. Many professors appreciate graduates who remain in contact with them and continue to update them on their professional progress.

Questions About Communicating with Professors

Use the official email address the school assigned to the professor you wish to contact, especially when you email them about course-related concerns.

true Q. Should you address problems with your professor in class or in an email?

Time permitting, many professors do not mind clarifying course-related problems in class. However, students should get in touch with a professor privately if they have a personal problem.

true Q. Should you follow up if your professor doesn’t respond?

Yes, you may follow up on an earlier email. Include a gentle reminder that the current email is a follow-up to an earlier message and summarize the concern. Do not copy and paste the body of the initial email into the follow-up email.

true Q. What style/format should you use in an email to a professor?

Keep email correspondence formal. This tone avoids ambiguity and keeps communication on topic.

true Q. When explaining a problem to a professor, how much detail should you include?

Include only as much detail as necessary for the professor to understand your issue. You can discuss more specific details in person, if needed.

How to Email a Professor

Emailing a professor is a simple task, but it helps to put thought into your communication. Applying a few tips, such as the ones listed below, can help ensure clear communication and encourage a timely response. Students should note their professor’s preferred communication tone and tailor their email accordingly.

When emailing a professor, avoid addressing them by their first name, no matter how friendly or approachable they act in the classroom. Always use a professor’s proper rank or title in an official email correspondence, such as doctor, if they hold a doctoral degree. A course syllabus usually includes a teacher’s credentials. Use the subject line to catch your professor’s attention by clearly indicating the topic the email addresses. The subject line allows the receiver to quickly assess the message’s urgency and reply in a timely manner. A subject line should contain proper grammar and correct spelling. Doing so indicates that the sender put attention and care into the email and encourages the recipient to respond similarly. Some professors share their personal email address in addition to the one the school assigned them. Students should use the latter, especially when emailing a professor about a class matter. Similarly, enrollees should contact professors using the student email address their school assigned to them instead of their personal email address. Many professors teach several classes. When communicating with a professor, students should always identify the course they are enrolled in and clearly indicate the time and day(s) of their class. Students should also use their full name at the end of the email. Remember to perform a quick grammar and spelling check before sending the email. Students can use several free online tools, such as Grammarly and ProWritingAid, to help them proofread. An email gives students the opportunity to show initiative and their seriousness about the course. Poor grammar and misspelled words do not further this goal. After completing the steps above, read the email from beginning to end one last time to catch any ambiguity or unnecessary detail. A concise, clear, and grammatically correct email indicates the effort and thought that went into its composition. Recipients of such an email often respond similarly.

Sample Email to a College Professor

To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
Subject: Psychology 101 Questions

Dear Professor Smith,

I’m in your Psychology 101 class on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1:00 pm. I have a few questions about classical conditioning as I’m struggling to understand how it works. Unfortunately, I have another class during your office hours. Can you please let me know if you’re available to meet with me sometime next week, and if so, what days and times might work for you?

How to communicate with your professor

Talking
to professors is always encouraged in colleges. After all, doing so
can help you learn something new, get some valuable tips, receive
recommendations, and find a way to handle educational troubles (if
they appear).

But
despite the fact that all students are told they can communicate with
their professors, few of them actually find the courage to do so. It
might seem understandable, especially for the freshmen, but this
could lead to some unpleasant situations as well. Just imagine a
student failing to complete a course just because they experienced
some troubles and were too afraid or shy to explain this to their
professor.

That’s
why today we want to offer you 8 tips that hopefully will make your
communication with professors much easier.

1.
Remember Their Preferred Channel of Communication.

When
a course begins, the professor teaching it usually explains how
exactly they prefer to communicate with the students. For example,
some like doing it via email, while some check their email rarely,
preferring to talk instead. If the professor prefers an offline
appointment, they also usually specify hours they are available.

Remembering
these preferences can help you a lot. For example, you will know that
you need to talk to your professor in person instead of writing them
an email.

2.
Schedule an Appointment.

Sure,
you might want to try talking to your professor after a lecture –
but chances are they won’t have much time for you then. Instead of
trying to do this at the most convenient time for you, try being
respectful and scheduling an appointment in advance during the hours
a certain professor is available. This will ensure that the professor
is available for a proper conversation during that time.

3.
Introduce Yourself.

Some
professors have many students, some have fewer. Some of them memorize
students better, some do not. Either way, you shouldn’t hope that
the professor actually remembers who you are.

Introduce
yourself when you come to see them, saying not only your name but
also your group and the course you take. This is all about being
polite and setting the right tone for the future conversation.

4.
Be Ready for a Small Talk.

That’s
a tricky part – there is a chance that the professor will want you
to get straight to the point. Some of them, however, prefer to have a
small talk first – and you should be ready for it instead of
freaking out.

Many
professors choose to teach because they actually like students and
enjoy talking to them – so try to be nice and make a friendly small
talk.

5.
Understand the Purpose of Your Visit.

You
don’t know how much time the professor can afford to spend talking
with you, so you should do your best to save them time. To do so,
think beforehand what the purpose of your visit is. Describe it
clearly to yourself and then deliver it to the professor after a
small talk (or right away if there isn’t any small talk).

It
also helps the professor to understand what to expect from you and
how long your conversation is going to last. Getting to know the
professor better is one thing and asking them for advice about your
writing is completely another – and you should remember that.

6.
Make Sure You Have Everything You Might Need With You.

If
you ask for help or advice that might require looking through some
additional data (for example, your cause
and effect essay,
project, coursework, grades, etc.), it’s always better to have this
data with you. After all, the professor might not have enough time to
dig into the data themselves. Or they might have some time, but this
still means that you’ll have to wait.

7.
Remember That a Professor Is a Person Too.

It’s
an obvious thing, yet many students seem to forget about that. This
stops them from talking to the professors in the first place – and
this also stops them from sharing certain personal matters.

While
some things (stress, workload, your relative’s illness, your
parents’ recent divorce) aren’t related to your studies, they can
still affect them a lot. Sure, this doesn’t mean that you need to
tell your professor about them in details – but telling about those
things in general is okay. And it’s often a must when such things
do affect your grades and could lead to you falling behind.

So
don’t worry: your professors are people too and they indeed can
understand.

8.
Don’t Forget: Even Talking Isn’t Always
Able to Fix Everything.

The
sad truth is that some students come to the professors only when it’s
too late: for example, when the course is coming to an end. There
might not be too many things the professor can do to help you fix a
problem in such a case.

Also,
the professor might not be too eager to help you: for example, if you
didn’t attend their lectures or showed some kind of disrespect.

While
most of the professors do want to help the students, sometimes, it
just isn’t possible. So if you put off the important conversation
as long as possible, you might want to brace yourself for some
disappointment.

However,
don’t let that discourage you. In most cases, there’s still a
great possibility to get help from your professor, to get to know
them more, and so on. So do your best, remember these tips, and try
scheduling an appointment as soon as possible. Hopefully, it will
turn out okay!

How to communicate with your professor

With classes being held online, keeping in contact with instructors is more important now than ever. Instructors have their own preferred way of communicating with students, so ask what works best for them. You’ll find that some are social media savvy and will accept direct messages via T witter ; others will give their phone number out in case of emergencies, while most want to be reached strictly through email. Here are a few ways to communicate with your college instructor s .

  1. EMAIL
    Email is the best way to communicate with your college instructors. A few simple tips to keep in mind are to use your student email, greet them professionally, state which c ourse you’re in, be direct and clear with your problem or question, thank them for their time, and don’t expect a response during weekends or after business hours. It is best to email instructors during business hours (8 am. to 5 p.m.) , and they are more likely to respond quickly.
  2. CANVAS EMAIL
    Canvas , SFCC’s learning management system, includes an email feature, so you can do all your schoolwork and communication in one place. Follow the same guidelines as state d above. Within this feature, you can email your instructo r s, classmates , or do a group email with both.
  3. SOCIAL MEDIA DIRECT MESSAGE
    Be sure to ask your instructor their preference with social media messaging. Some may not mind at all, others may use only with high important communication, while others may strictly prohibit it. If your instructor gives permission to use social media direct messaging, then be sure to follow the guidelines stated above and be professional as possible.
  4. OFFICE HOURS
    Instructors designate a portion of their schedule for “virtual o ffice hours ” during this time of social distancing . Most instructors post t heir office hou rs in the ir syllabi or in Canvas. If you are having issu es with understanding a topic or assignment, pop ping in to y our instructor’s “virtual office” is another way to communicate with him or her.

No matter how you’re communicating with instructor s , make sure to be professional and respectful. Remember that everything online can be found, so beware of what you say. Proofread your email to ensure everything is spelled correctly and makes sens e. Always use your instructor’s preferred method of communication and greet them with their preferred name. One final tip is to read the syllabus t o find the answer to your question before reaching out to your instructor.

Written by Megan Spencer, Social Media and Digital Communications Coordinator at State Fair Community College.

How to communicate with your professorAbout the Author
Hi, I’m Megan! I run State Fair Community College’s social media. I grew up with a creative passion and have always loved drawing, painting, and crafting. My educational background is in graphic design and marketing. I love to help people, which is one of the reasons I started writing these blogs for SFCC’s students. It’s about community!

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Professors and teaching assistants generally like talking with students. They appreciate students who ask for help, and they don’t consider it a waste of time to answer students’ questions, either in class or out of class. In fact, most professors believe that the better students seek extra help, and they often wonder why more students don’t take advantage of the opportunity to talk with them. This handout discusses how and when to talk to your professor.

In-class questions

Asking questions in class takes a lot of courage at first. Students may fear that they will be wasting their classmates’ time or that they will look stupid if they ask what seems to be a simple question. Most professors appreciate that courage and will support your efforts to participate in class. If the answer is appropriate for the entire class, the professor will answer. If it’s better to answer you individually, the professor will say something like, “Let’s talk about that after class” or “We can talk about that outside of class.” If you’re uncomfortable asking questions in class, make an effort to see your professor during office hours.

Office hours

Office hours are regular times each week that instructors reserve for conversations with students. These hours are listed on the course syllabus. Professors might work on their own projects to stay busy while they wait for students, but they genuinely welcome student visits. You can drop by the office without an appointment during these hours, but it’s a good idea to let the professor know in advance that you’d like to come in to discuss a particular topic. Just say something like, “Could I come see you during your office hours to talk about…?”

Appointments

You might have another class or some other schedule conflict during the instructor’s office hours. Professors know this, and will often list office hours on their syllabus as “Tuesday 2-4 p.m. or by appointment.” When you ask for an appointment, offer the instructor several options to choose from. Say something like, “I have class during your office hours, but I’d like to make an appointment to talk about [the topic you need help with]. Do you have time on Wednesday or Thursday afternoon?”

Making polite requests

At times, you may need a favor or you may need to notify your professor about your situation. Most professors are willing to work with students who make reasonable requests, as long as they believe that students are trying their hardest to be respectful.

To make polite requests, explain your situation and then make the request. The verb “would” is particularly useful here.

“I have three papers due on the same day and I’d really like to do my best. Would you mind letting me have one more day?”
“I need to visit Campus Health, but the only available appointment is at our class time. Would it be alright if I ask my classmate to take notes for me?”

Asking for clarification

There will be times when you don’t understand the concepts presented in class, the language used in lecture, or the instructions for an assignment. At these times, it’s tempting to smile and nod as if you do understand. This is a huge mistake!

You can politely ask for clarification in several ways:

“I’m sorry. I’m not sure I understood that.”
“I’m sorry. Would you mind explaining that last point one more time?”
“Let me make sure I understand you correctly. You’re saying that…”

Asking for feedback

Professors and teaching assistants appreciate it when students ask for feedback on their work. They will not suggest every single change that should be made for you to get the highest grade possible. They will suggest the two or three most important things you can do. You’ll get much better feedback if you make specific requests.

“Could you read this and give me some suggestions?” (Too vague)
“Could you give me feedback on my logic and organization?” (Much better!)

Ending the conversation

Every culture has social rules for how people behave at the end of a conversation and how students leave an professor’s office. In some cultures, students are expected to maintain eye contact until the professor looks away and starts working on something else. This is a signal that they’ve been dismissed and are free to go. At UNC, most professors will maintain eye contact until students turn around and walk away.

When the conversation is over, say thank you, pick up your things, say goodbye politely, then turn around and walk away without looking back.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 License.
You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Learning Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

If you enjoy using our handouts, we appreciate contributions of acknowledgement.

How to communicate with your professor

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A while back, I recommended that students get to know their professors. I realize, though, that many students are intimidated or put off by their professors. This is especially so when students need something — a favor, special help with an assignment, a second chance on a test.

It doesn’t need to be that way. Professors are people, just like everyone else, and if you approach your professors with the same basic respect and decency you offer everyone else you interact with, you’ll probably find that they react with the same.

There are, though, a few things you should keep in mind when you talk to your professors, especially if you’re going to be asking for a particular favor:

  • Call them by the right title. A “Doctor” is someone with a PhD; not all professors have a PhD. “Professor” is usually appropriate, unless you’ve been told otherwise. I prefer to be called by my first name, and I make that point clearly on the first day of class; if your professor hasn’t said anything about this, you’re better off not using their first name. If you’re totally unsure, a “Mr.” or “Ms.” Is usually fine. Do not use “Mrs.” unless the professor herself uses it; after 30 years of women making this point, it’s time to recognize that not all adult women are or want to be married.
  • Tell the truth. After the first couple of semesters of teaching, your average professor has pretty much heard it all. It’s a sad fact, but true nonetheless, that we grow pretty jaded and take all student excuses with a grain of salt. If a professor thinks s/he’s being played, they’re not going to respond very well to whatever request you have to make, so you might as well be honest. If you feel you absolutely must lie, at least make it a huge flaming whopper of a lie, so the professor can get a good laugh when they share it at the next faculty meeting.
  • Be prepared to do the work. If you’ve missed an assignment or a test or are falling behind in your reading, and you are seeking help to get caught up or a special dispensation to make up the assignment, you’d better be prepared to do the work — and generally under more difficult circumstances. I get the impression that a lot of students imagine I might just say “don’t worry about it, I’ll give you the points anyway” which, of course, is not going to happen.
  • Be clear and concise. Unless you’re paying a “social call”, get to the point quickly: tell your prof what you need or want and be done with it. Don’t spend 30 minutes explaining your childhood and family arrangements and how hard it is getting a job with a few felony convictions on your record and blah blah blah for a 10-point assignment. Simply say “Professor, I missed an assignment, can I make it up? Can I do something else?”
  • Pay social calls. Your professor is probably required by school policy to be in his or her office and available to students for a set number of hours per week. On top of that, most professors like talking to students — it’s part of the reason we took the job. Chances are, though, that s/he spends the majority of her or his office hours playing Minesweeper and reading email, because students almost never drop in on her. Pay your professor a visit or two, just to talk. Tell him or her about the work you’re interested in or about problems you’re having (but remember, a professor is not a therapist; they’ll talk about whatever you want, but may not be able to offer professional advice). Build relationships with your professors — at the very least, they’ll remember you when you call up three years later asking for a reference letter.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, flirt. The days of professors marrying their promising students are long, long gone. Nowadays, even the hint of favoritism can ruin a professor’s career — let alone any actual relationship-type behavior. Unless your professor is a total sleazebag, any sign of flirtation will make him or her shut down immediately. They simply cannot risk it.
    • Note: Many students develop crushes on their professors. They do not respond much to the argument that a professor’s position and authority makes any romantic response on their part problematic at best; most college students feel they are adults and able to make their own decisions, and that there is therefore nothing all that improper about a relationship between a prof and a student. And they’re right: they are adults and they are capable of making their own decisions, and should have the good sense therefore to leave their professors alone. It may well be the case that a professor, being human, slips up — maybe he’s getting a divorce or just broke up with her boyfriend or any number of circumstances, and a student comes along and seems to find them interesting and attractive and all that. This transgression may cost them their jobs and the careers they’ve worked hard to build. And in the end, all crushes pass; professors, who seem so competent and intriguing in their classrooms, turn out to be normal people with normal people’s faults outside the classroom, and the attraction fades. So give it a pass; keep your relationship with your professors friendly but not too friendly.
  • Prepare for disappointment. Depending on how far you’ve let your studies slide, there might not be anything a professor can do and still be fair to the rest of her or his students. Or it might not be technically possible: arranging make-up tests, for example, is difficult. Your prof probably spent hours writing his or her syllabus, and probably spent another hour explaining it to you at the beginning of the class, so he or she’s got a lot invested in the rules it explains. Too many students try to bend or break the rules for her or him to be easily swayed from them. They especially hate it when people don’t do an assignment and then ask for a way to make it up; it throws off our whole “rhythm” to read an assignment from 6 weeks ago. So often a professor won’t or can’t help you. Your only option might be to shift into damage control, see what you can do, and ask honestly if you should continue in the class. And learn from your failure; take the class again and do it right.
  • Hold the threats. Professors get threatened with lawsuits a lot, and even threats of physical violence are not unheard of when things don’t go a student’s way. Obviously, professors aren’t going to respond very well to threats. On top of that, most professors have pretty good relationships with their departments and superiors, which means they know that baseless accusations and going over their heads isn’t going to get a student very far. If you find yourself needing to resort to threats, chances are you probably don’t have much of a reason for a professor to help you out, and you should start thinking about how to do better next time.

As I said, most professors will respond in kind if you treat them openly and decently. We didn’t become professors because we wanted to make students’ lives miserable (well, most of us, anyway…). We became professors out of a passion for our disciplines and a desire to share our knowledge with you. As a general rule, professors respect commitment and genuine curiosity, and will go out of their way to help if they feel that you are honestly interested in doing well. On the other hand, professors get to feeling pretty used by the numerous students who work hard only at gaming the system, and if they feel you’re one of those students, they’re not likely to bend very far to make life easier for you.

How to communicate with your professor

Communication skills are vital in online learning because students must seek help when they need it.

Instructors are willing to help students, but they are unable to pick up on non-verbal cues, such as a look of confusion on a student’s face. Here are some tips to communicate effectively in a virtual space.

Use the tools provided by the school to communicate with your instructors. These might include e-mail, discussion groups, chat room office hours, cell phones, and even text messaging. Instructors want to help you to succeed in your classes and will answer your questions. It may feel awkward to talk with your instructors this way, but don’t worry. If your instructor has chat room or cell phone office hours, don’t be shy about using those tools to communicate with your instructor.

Use appropriate style and language for school. When communicating with instructors and other staff, you should write in full, grammatically correct sentences and with a respectful tone. Many students are used to a very informal style of writing in chat rooms, blogs, text messages, and so forth.

Because of the distance, it’s tempting for some students to say things out of anger or frustration that they would never say to an instructor in person. Online teachers are professionals. Treat them with respect and courtesy.

Netiquette

Netiquette refers to a code of behavior to promote professional digital interaction. When attending an online class or in a breakout room, treat the experience as you would an in-person class, especially if you are required to show yourself on video. Think about how you are presented both in words (in a Chat or other typed discussion board), in sound (because everyone can hear all of the sounds in the room you are in), and in image (because everyone can see you and the background – real, virtual – behind you).

Include a subject line. Give a descriptive phrase pertaining to your message (not just “Hi!”)

Avoid sarcasm. People who do not know you may misinterpret your meaning.

Acknowledge and return messages promptly. Check your student email and course messages for important information sent to you from your instructors.

Use appropriate language. Avoid coarse, rough, or rude language. Observe good grammar and spelling.

Use appropriate intensifiers to help convey meaning. Avoid “flaming” (online screaming) or sentences typed in all caps. Use asterisks surrounding words to indicate emphasis.

Any derogatory or inappropriate comments regarding race, gender, age, religion or sexual orientation are unacceptable and subject to disciplinary action.

Remember that distance learning interactions are still overseen by the Student Conduct Code and all prohibited conduct, including academic misconduct, alcohol/drug violations, computer abuses, bullying, harassment, violence, and discriminatory acts, will be sanctioned as appropriate.

It is not uncommon for students taking online classes to feel a bit isolated at times. Without regular communication with professors and fellow students, it’s hard to know how you’re doing. That’s why r egular communication with instructors should be a priority for students throughout the semester.

These helpful tips to take the guesswork ou t of how to interact with your professors in a comfortable and effective wa y.

1. Be mindful of your professor’s preferred method of communication .

Not unlike campus instructors, your online instructors will know their preferred method of communication. Make sure you use specific methods which may include :

  • Discussion Forums in the Learning Management System ( ie . Blackboard or Moodle)
  • Email in the Learning Management System or school ’s academic portal
  • Telephone which is usually by appointment and in cases where email or discussion forum aren’t sufficient .

2. Be respectful in emails and messages

When emailing your professor, make sure to use proper etiquette including:

  • Use a formal greeting , such as “ Professor ______” or “ Dr. _______”
  • Include a clear subject, including assignment title (if applicable) or specific topic related to the email message.
  • Be concise . Make sure to read back your email before sending to make sure that your question or message is clear.
  • Keep language formal and use correct grammar. Be polite and respectful. Avoid use of abbreviations or emojis.
  • Close with a friendly greeting such as “Sincerely ,” “Best” or “Thank You” and be sure to include your full name , class and section number.

3. Be proactive.

Research suggests that interaction with faculty is a vital part of students’ success. Students often worry that reaching out to instructors will be somehow annoying to them. R esearch shows that online faculty tend to be very student – centered. Not only will they not mind you contacting them , they will expect you to communicate with them. With online learning, sending an email or posting a question in the discussion forum is no different than raising your hand and asking a question in the classroom. Regular communication is your way of participating in your class.

4. Be appropriate.

Limit questions posted in your class discussion forums to topics related directly to class curriculum and clarification of assignments. Private questions only concerning you should be addressed in a private message or email.

As effective communication between you and your professors is very important to your learning and academic performance, this is a key skill that you have to learn.

  • Interact with them by answering their questions
  • Prepare before lecture, ask questions aloud since others may have a similar question
  • Listen attentively when professors answer
  • Do not chat, sleep or play with phones during class
  • Find out if your professors have preferred communication channels or time allocated to see students
  • Try to request to meet your professors in office hours, email them first with suggested timeslots and key questions
  • Be patient. Resend in about 5 days if no reply
  • Be considerate and keep to arranged meeting time
  • Be punctual and notify your professors if you will be late/ unable to attend the meetings
  • Get prepared before contacting your professors: let them know your purpose of meeting and the background/ basic information of your questions (if any)
  • Be clear and well supported for your enquiry. State your questions (e.g. list out 1, 2, 3) and provide explanations, rationales or justifications
  • For questions about study materials, please state clearly what you know and what you do not know so that your professors’ time will not be wasted. Don’t forget to bring paper and pen to take down important points
  • Please provide your CV, academic information and other relevant experience to your professors. Don’t forget to include the information of the programme/activity for which the reference is needed, for example, the nature and deadline of the application
  • Plan ahead and allow enough time for your professors to write the letters, for example, reserve 4-6 weeks
  • Maintain regular contact with your professors to build up the relationships
  • In your email to the professors, please include the subject, salutation, the main message, the closing and the sign-off
  • Address your professors accurately
  • Don’t forget to Identify yourself and class
  • Write a clear email “subject” which can accurately describe the purpose of your email
  • Anticipate, think ahead and include all your questions in one email
  • The email contents should be brief and precise
  • For the tone of the email, please be respectful and polite. Avoid slangs, texting language or casual abbreviations
  • Remember to write complete sentences. Check if the grammar and punctuation are correct
  • Acknowledge receipt of replies from professors
  • Remember to send thank you emails to your professors for showing appreciation and let them know about the outcome of your concerns

How to communicate with your professor

January 25, 2021 | Staff

The Youth, Family, and Community Sciences graduate program publishes a monthly blog written by students and alumni sharing important topics and helpful resources related to the field of family science. In the January blog post, Professor Sarah Kirby shares ways to effectively and professionally communicate with your professors.

Over the years, I have found one thing that many students have in common. They often do not know how to communicate with their professors. Specifically, they do not know how to effectively email their professors. The inspiration for this post comes from Laura Portwood-Stacer’s post on How to Email Your Professor .

Here are a few suggestions on how to improve email communications.

Emailing your professor is not the same as emailing or texting your best friend

“Hey Girl” is not a good way to start. Instead, begin with a formal “Dear Dr. Smith” or “Dear Professor Smith.” Do not begin with Mrs. or Mr. or with the professor’s first name — unless they have specifically asked you to refer to them by that title or name.

Introduce yourself

Some professors have many students and multiple classes. Tell them who you are, what class you are in, and which time and date it meets.

Clearly state why you are writing

A specific purpose is important. Do you have a question or concern that needs to be addressed? Be as specific as possible. Before asking your question, though, do some investigation. The syllabus, the Moodle site, the graduate student handbook for YFCS, and the NC State graduate school handbook are wonderful resources for answering questions related to classes, policies, or graduate studies. I don’t want you to be afraid to ask questions, just do a little homework.

Don’t ask professors/instructors to “give you a call” with the answer to your question

Instead, ask nicely to respond to your email at their earliest convenience. If there is a time urgency, please let them know that as well. Just realize that the more time you can provide a professor to answer your question, the greater the likelihood that they will be able to meet your needs. They, too, have other demands on their time including personal time. Finally, be sure to thank them for their time.

Know that your professors do care about you and do like to hear from you. The YFCS professors are invested in their students and want to help create an environment of open communication. Working to make your emails succinct will only help in that regard.

For more information and a template for writing your professor, please visit Laura Portwood-Spicer’s article.

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By: Kate Romine, Purdue CAPS Doctoral Psychology Intern

If personal issues are impacting your academic performance, it’s sometimes smart to reach out to your professors and let them know.

  • Don’t wait until it’s a last-minute crisis.
    • Be proactive. As soon as you know there’s a potential problem, give them a heads up (email might work for this). That way, if you need to approach them later for specific support, it won’t be entirely unexpected.
  • Make the decision to ask for support.
    • Being assertive is effective. It is not pushy, rude, or selfish when communicated with respect.
    • Commit to asking for what you need. Don’t do it halfway. Being indecisive and unsure of what to ask for will decrease your effectiveness.
    • Commit, but also understand there are elements that are out of your control. Do your part, and do your best, and be flexible about what comes next.
  • Have an in-person conversation, if possible.
    • This shows respect for the professor and also conveys that you are taking the process seriously.
  • Identify what you need from the conversation.
    • Are you making a request, like having a due date moved or extra office hours? Or do you simply want to inform them that there’s a reason you haven’t been performing as well as usual? Be clear about your intention before starting the conversation.
  • Be as calm as you can when you approach them.
    • Being upset or emotional can cloud your ability to think and articulate yourself.
    • Remember that you can only control yourself and do your best.
  • Tell them directly what you are seeking, and ask if they’re available for the conversation.
    • “I’d like to share about some personal challenges I’m having that are impacting my performance. Can I talk with you?”
    • “I need to request an extension on this assignment, and I’d like to tell you why. Is now a good time to talk about it?”
  • Describe the situation.
    • Stick to the facts.
  • Express how you are affected.
    • Don’t assume your feelings are self-evident.
  • Ask for what you want.
    • Say it directly and specifically.
      • “I’d like an extension on the assignment until [date].”
      • “I just want you to be aware in case I need support in the future.”
    • Assume that others will not figure out what you want unless you ask directly. They cannot read your mind. Also, don’t expect them to know how hard it is for you to ask.
  • Explain the consequences.
    • Tell them how it will help you to have your request granted (if you are making a request).
  • Remember your role.
    • You are a student, and they are a professor. Your needs are very important, and also, your professor has dozens, if not hundreds, of other students.
    • Be concise and direct. This shows you recognize their time is valuable.
    • While being concise and direct, also be sure to communicate the pertinent information.
    • Be flexible. Some professors might want to ask questions and get a fuller picture, and some may not feel the need to know more
  • Be confident, and receptive.
    • If someone’s frustrated or having a bad day, they may seem annoyed or unhappy about your need to talk with them. Don’t let that derail you.
    • Try not to respond to irritable comments that are irrelevant. Stay on topic.
    • Stay grounded and calm, and if needed, repeat your request calmly and patiently.
    • Act calm and confident, even if you don’t feel it.
  • Reflect their point of view.
    • Show you have heard them and can understand their side of it.
      • “I hear that you can’t change due dates for everyone who asks, and it sounds frustrating to be asked. And, if possible, based on my circumstances, I’m requesting an exception.”
  • Be willing to negotiate and compromise.
    • Maybe you cannot get what you want, but perhaps they can meet you halfway.
    • Offer and ask for alternative solutions that would help.
    • Reduce your request if needed. Focus on what will work.
  • Thank them.
    • Even if you didn’t get what you wanted, thank them for hearing you and for their time.
  • It may not work.
    • Sometimes professors cannot accommodate requests, so be prepared. Having your request declined is not the end of the world. Don’t make it mean more than it does. It was still a good idea to try.

Communicating effectively with your lecturers and tutors.

How do I write an effective email?

Email is a very common mode of communication at university, in the workplace and socially. It’s important to get the tone and style of your email right, as this will help you make a good impression and hopefully get the response you’re looking for.

Sample

Below is a template you can follow and adjust when you want to email a lecturer, tutor, or coordinator. Each element is numbered and explained further underneath.

(1) Subject: [Subject code] – [question about / request for etc.]

(2) Dear (3) Dr [insert surname] / Professor [insert surname] / Prof. [insert surname], or [preferred name of lecturer / tutor / coordinator],

(4) I am a student in your [insert subject name] lecture,

(5) I have a question regarding the lecture presented last [insert day/date] which I couldn’t find the answer to.

Should our essay draw only on readings listed on the syllabus or can I incorporate scholarly articles I read on my own, as long as it fits with the subject of the assignment?

I look forward to hearing from you.

(6) Kind regards,
[Your name]

(1) Use a concise and direct subject line

Subject code + Problem/Enquiry

The subject line should be simple and reflect the content of your email. Something like “Question about [Class Name] paper” or “Meeting request” is clear and appropriate.

(2) Use an appropriate salutation

Start your email with a “Dear” or “Hello”, these are appropriate in formal situations. “Hey” is ok when you’re emailing friends, but would be too informal in this context.

(3) Address the recipient appropriately (both title and name)

Double-check the spelling of your lecturer or tutor’s name and their title. In Australia, use ‘Professor’ or ‘Prof.’ only for academics with the title ‘Professor’. Have a look at the subject guide or course information on the LMS or handbook to get the right title. Try to avoid gendered addresses like ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs.’ Some lecturers and tutors might allow you to address them by their first name, but it’s better to wait until they have told you that’s how they’d prefer you address them. In some cases, you can address your tutor or lecturer by their first name if they have routinely used their first name only to sign off on emails sent to students.

(4) Introduce yourself

Tell your lecturer who you are, especially if this is the first email you’ve written to them. They may have hundreds of students across different subjects.

(5) Keep the body short and straight to the point

Try to use one paragraph for each idea you want to address. Writing everything in one long paragraph can be confusing for the reader.

(6) End with a clear closing

It’s good practice to sign off at the end of an email with a set phrase such as ‘Kind regards’, ‘Best wishes’, or ‘Thanks’, followed by your name.

Checklist

Send emails from your Unimelb email address

This shows that you’re enrolled at the University of Melbourne. If you use a personal email address, it may be filtered as spam, meaning your lecturer will not be able to see your email.

Try to figure out the problem by yourself first

If you can’t find a suitable answer, then email. Check the information that is already available (e.g. canvas LMS, handbook, syllabus) before emailing.

Proofread before sending

Always read through your email before you click the ‘Send’ button. Have you included an appropriate salutation, title and sign off. Is your spelling and grammar correct? Grammarly is a useful (and free) tool for identifying mistakes.

Final tip

Always think about your audience (who you’re writing to) and your aim (what you want). This will help you to work out how formal you need to be, how much background information you might need to provide and leave the reader with a great impression of your communication skills.

Related resources

    • Quick read

    Developing clarity and focus in academic writing

    Academic writing aims to be clear and precise, with a direct style that moves logically from one idea to the next. This page describes how you can structure sentences and paragraphs to achieve clarity and ‘flow’ in your writing.

    Professional style

    Four strategies to help you write in a professional style.

    Punctuation

    Find out how to use punctuation correctly to improve your written work. This resource looks at the most common punctuation forms you will use in academic writing.

    How to communicate with your professor

    Looking for one-on-one advice?

    Get tailored advice from an Academic Skills adviser by booking an individual appointment, or get quick advice from one of our Academic Writing Tutors in our online drop-in sessions.

    How to communicate with your professor

    A freshman parent once called my office early in the school year. Because I’m a department chair, I sometimes field general questions from parents, but this parent wanted very specific information. “Is there a way to log in to see my son’s grades?” she asked.

    This question is becoming more common. Many parents, used to online K–12 grade portals, expect the same access in college.

    “No,” I told her. Some of the faculty at my university use an online learning management system, but others (like me) teach students how to track their grades the old-fashioned way — by collecting all graded work and using the formula in my syllabus. “But your son should be able to calculate his grade if he’s keeping up with his graded assignments.”

    This did not satisfy her. She suspected he was floundering and wanted to know for certain. I reassured her that he was being coached through his First-Year Success course on how to stay on track — and more importantly, how to talk to his professors if he was concerned about his progress.

    The student-professor relationship in college is one of the most important to cultivate. Professors want to develop strong relationships with their students, and students should want the same.

    Here are a few tips to guide your student through the process of creating an open line of communication with a professor. Pandemic or not, these are solid strategies for starting off the semester right!

    Establish a Relationship Early

    Professors will be happy to get to know your student before a problem arises. Any time during the semester (with the exception of the day before the final!) is a good time to reach out, but the sooner the better.

    Your student should take cues from the syllabus about the best way to communicate with a professor. Is the professor available to meet in person or is email or an online meeting better? It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: If the professor prefers email, then use email and check it often.

    When your student meets with the professor for the first time, it’s a good idea to have a list of questions ready. Here are a few that can help your student learn more about the professor’s expectations:

    • “I want to learn as much as I can in your class. What can I do to succeed?”
    • “I usually (fill in usual study practices). What will work best for this class?”
    • “I want to be sure I start off with solid work in your class. Can I come see you before an assignment is due to make sure I’m on the right track?”

    A solid relationship early in the semester can be helpful if your student’s circumstances change. In the spring of 2020 when students moved home because of the pandemic, one of my students had to pick up extra shifts at his job and so he could no longer join our class online at the designated time. Another student was dealing with limited internet access. Faculty will want to know about any situation that makes it hard for a student to access their courses online or show up for an in-person class.

    Create a Plan to Stay Organized

    College students need a planner, preferably a large one that can be hung on a wall or anything that can be accessed easily. Classes meet on different days of the week and at different times, and your student will also have study sessions and extracurricular activities to map out.

    Last year during the pandemic, students at my institution had hybrid classes that were held both online and in person, and those designations changed from week to week. Students were asking themselves questions like, “Am I meeting my psychology class in person for small group work this week or are we online?” A consistent organizational strategy will keep the chaos under control.

    Seek Immediate Feedback after Graded Work

    If your student gets a low grade, or lower than anticipated — even if they think they know why — it’s good to check in with the professor as soon as possible.

    Here are a few ways your student can open a conversation after a low or failing grade:

    • “I reviewed my work. Can we go over what I did wrong so I understand what I should do differently next time?”
    • “I’m bummed I messed up that assignment. Would you help me see where I made mistakes?”
    • “Can we talk about how this low grade will affect my progress in the course? I want to be sure to make the improvements I need to raise my grade.”

    Because students share this fear with me, it’s worth telling you: Yes, professors really want to talk with students who’ve failed an assignment. No, they don’t think their students aren’t smart enough to pass their class.

    Professors want their students to learn and to earn good grades. Your student shouldn’t be ashamed to speak to a professor about a class they’re failing. Reaching out demonstrates a willingness to improve.

    Practice Patience, Kindness and Self-Care

    We’ve learned during the pandemic that we are resilient, but the last year and a half has still been stressful for families and communities. Despite lots of work on our end, faculty and administrators can not 100% guarantee that our institutions’ plans for this academic year won’t need to shift if Covid-19 cases increase.

    Remind your student to practice patience and kindness to themselves and to others as they begin their fall term. And know that, more than anything, their school wants them to be successful and healthy.

    Check Email!

    Encourage your student to check their official school email account daily.

    Just as most colleges and universities changed from on-campus to online in a matter of days in the spring of 2020, your student’s college may institute quick changes at any time. Professors often communicate with their class by email, and so do offices including Financial Aid. The more your student reads and responds to email, the more prepared they’ll be.

    If you as a parent are able to sign up for institutional announcements, often provided through the parent and family program, do so immediately.

    We all benefit from staying connected and informed!

    Get stories and expert advice on all things related to college and parenting.

    This resource is also available as a PDF.

    Contacting your professor

    • Check your course syllabus for information about your professors’ office hours and email or phone preferences.
    • If possible, inform them in advance about the purpose of any meetings you request.
    • Identify yourself by name, course, and section.
    • Before requesting an extension on an assignment, check the syllabus for relevant information. For example, are marks deducted? When? How many? Are there exceptions?
    • Communicate clearly and concisely. Like you, professors are busy.
    • Be polite and formal in your interactions, unless you are invited to be informal.
    • Do not expect an immediate response to your request. Professors might not check emails at night or on weekends.
    • Respond promptly to their messages.

    Meet your professors during their office hours

    Professors want you to do well, enjoy their courses, and develop an interest in their fields of research.

    • clarify difficult content after you have read the notes or text, attended the lecture, or tried the homework.
    • encourage you when you may be feeling overwhelmed by the course.
    • explain assignments after you’ve tried to understand their purpose, format, or expectations.
    • stimulate your interest in a subject area. Your professors have research areas they are often deeply committed to. Ask them about their work, and see if you share their passion.
    • be a reference for a job, a graduate school application or a research proposal, if they know you first.
    • hire you for research help, which builds your practical experience.

    Set a goal of speaking outside class with each of your professors at least once each term.

    Working with TAs

    Teaching (or lab) assistants (TAs) are usually graduate students who assist professors with specific tasks. In large classes, they are a connection between undergrads and professors.

    • Ask your TAs how they want to be addressed. Even though they may be close in age to you, they may prefer some professional distance.
    • Be polite when contacting TAs by email.
    • Understand their role: TAs may lead tutorials, mark papers or exams, or hold office hours to answer questions.
    • Ask for feedback on tests or assignments. Show your TA that you want to know how to improve (vs. criticize their grading).
    • Respect their wishes about how and when you may contact them.

    Troubleshooting

    • Engage in the course: read your course syllabus for information on course objectives, topics, and key dates.
    • Ask questions and offer ideas in class, so the professor knows who you are.
    • Look for opportunities to talk with your professors outside of class, especially if you don’t speak in class.
    • Request feedback on how you are doing, and how to deepen your understanding or improve your grades.
    • Try to learn more about your professors: their research interests, other courses they teach, or their community involvement.
    • Attend talks or academic events at which your professors will be present.
    • Offer professors or TAs positive and constructive feedback on the courses you are taking with them.
    • Respect the professional boundary between professors and students.

    For more on how to establish good communication and enjoy a productive working relationship with your supervisor, see this resource from the School of Graduate Studies.

    Email etiquette

    Correct options are in bold.

    1. Fill in the subject line with:
      • nothing
      • help
      • absent from MATH121 on Monday
    1. Start an email to an instructor with:
      • hey!
      • Hi Kim
      • Hello, Prof. Young
    1. Identify yourself, saying:
      • Nothing; they can read the email address.
      • I’m a student.
      • I’m in your MATH121 (Section B) course.
    1. State your request:
      • please send the homework solutions
      • I was sick and missed class. Any solutions handed out?
      • I was sick and missed class. I got notes from a friend, but I have a few questions. Can we please meet?
    1. Sign off with:
      • Greg
      • Greg Jones
      • Thanks for your time, Greg Jones (Student #15869923)

    Graduate students

    For information on how graduate students can establish good communication and enjoy productive working relationships with their graduate supervisors, see this resource from the School of Graduate Studies.

    If you’re new to the world of online classes, the prospect of learning from a professor you will never meet could seem intimidating. It’s easier to find an opportunity to talk with an instructor you see on a daily basis than to muster the nerve to officially ask questions through email, especially if you worry that you’re the only one in class who doesn’t understand a lesson or assignment. Additionally, while getting to know that professor as a fellow human being helps make communication more natural, you may not know what to say to an instructor who seems like an invisible, and inaccessible, authority figure. Knowing how much and what kind of communications you can expect can make this transition easier and make your online learning endeavor more successful.

    The ‘Distance’ in Distance Learning

    How much instructor communication happens in an online course varies by professor. Just as some professors prefer to elicit interactive student discussions and others would rather lecture, some professors will interact more with students while others will initiate less communication. Even if you have a relatively involved instructor, you may feel somewhat isolated in an online course. If you are used to having regular in-person interactions with instructors and fellow students, even if you haven’t been in school for some time, the transition from a real classroom to a virtual classroom can be difficult. Lack of personal engagement, particularly with instructors, is among the biggest hurdles online students face, according to The New York Times.

    Methods of Online Communication

    Your instructor will communicate with you in a variety of ways. Of course, you should expect to interact through emails. Most online courses take place through a virtual “learning platform,” where you may communicate through virtual class discussions, chat rooms and forums. Your teacher may communicate course information through videotaped lectures, podcasts, or slideshow presentations. Just as in a traditional course, your professor will provide you with feedback on your assignments and exams. Some professors will even use social media networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, to communicate with students.

    Tips for Communicating with Professors, Online or In-Person

    Though the format of an online class differs from that of a traditional on-campus course, what you say to your instructor may not. For all types of communications with your professor, you should be respectful and take responsibility for your grades and your actions, according to U.S. News & World Report.

    Perhaps the most important factor to consider when taking an online course is how much communication you personally need with your professor. If you feel that you are struggling to grasp course material or that you don’t fully understand an assignment, it is essential that you reach out to the instructor as soon as possible. Remember that, although you don’t see your professor on a regular basis, his or her job is to teach you. You’re not bothering your instructor when you ask for help.

    How to communicate with your professor

    By now you’ve probably been told that you should be using office hours. If you haven’t then let’s start there. You should definitely be taking advantage of office hours. Meeting with your professors during their office hours is one of the easiest ways to improve your learning, grades and future career opportunities while in college. And most professors also offer virtual office hours if it’s better for your schedule to plan to meet through Zoom. But a lot of students don’t use office hours because they are afraid of meeting with their professors one-on-one, even if it’s behind a computer screen.

    It might sound something like: “What if I say something silly, and my professor realizes I’m not a magical being who knows everything, and then I get kicked out of college, and my life is over?”

    While this is definitely extreme, it might not be that far off from what your “fear voice” sounds like. We’re not here to poke fun — there are plenty of aspects of college that can be intimidating when you first approach them. If this sounds like you, we’ve got you covered. At the end of the day, professors are just people. People who are interested in your success. Here is your guide to making it easy to meet with professors one-on-one.

    Get to know your professor as a person

    Your professor is more than just a guide to the answers on a test. When you get to know them as real people, professors can become mentors and advocates for your career and continued growth. If you’re uncertain or shy, here are three easy ways you can begin creating a meaningful, person-to-person connection with your professor:

    Ask about your professor’s specialty, interests, side projects or ongoing research they’ve been involved with. This is a big source of passion for many professors. It’s a great way to see what they care about most, and start to know them as real people. If your professor has an opportunity to involve students in their work, you could end up on the list of people considered.

    Ask for general input, especially if you are still “figuring things out.” Try this: “I’m still exploring what I want to do after college. I was excited about this class because I thought it might help me understand _____. What would you do if you were in my position? How do you go about making decisions like these?”

    Ask for career advice. If your instructor is connected to the field or industry you’re working toward, see if they have advice for someone like you. Ask if they recommend any experiences that can help you further determine your career path or see if you’re on the right one.

    Indulge your curiosity

    College should be about becoming a master learner. In other words, now is the time to learn about how you learn. If you follow your curiosity without fear and see where that takes you, you’ll be surprised at what opportunities can open up as a result. Here are three ways to demonstrate your curiosity to professors and take your learning to the next level:

    Tell your professor why you took their class. Explain what you’re hoping to learn or share any questions you have about the topic. Most professors are genuinely interested in the reasons students take their courses. If you’re in a required course, try thinking about why the course is required and share your thoughts — this can be a good jumping off point for a conversation too.

    Tell your professor what your big takeaways are so far. If you had misconceptions about the topic prior to taking the course, share how your perception has changed. Share the impact these takeaways have had on your life. Have you changed your approach to something practical? Have you started seeing the world in a new way? If you’re having a #mindblown moment, share it.

    Try to examine the course content in a new way. For example, if the class is outside your area of study, you can talk to your professor about any connections you’re starting to see between the two fields. Ask if they know of any research that explores the overlap between the two fields.

    Face your problems head-on

    Professors genuinely appreciate students who decide to confront their challenges and work to overcome them. So if you find yourself struggling to keep up in class or complete coursework, definitely consider office hours as a potential resource for getting back on track. Sometimes you really need a partner to help you determine the best way to overcome your unique challenges. Here are three signs it could be time to ask your professor for help:

    If you’re falling behind or your grades are suffering. There are a number of reasons this could be happening, but the important point is that your professor or TA can help pinpoint what the issue is, and suggest possible paths for improving.

    If you’re confused about something covered previously. Don’t be afraid to be the novice. Just like in the movies, sometimes a small misunderstanding can snowball later on as ideas are built on again and again. What’s the remedy? Ask basic questions, ask the same question in different ways — this is actually a skill you’ll use for most of your life. Think of it this way; it’s much better to ask the sometimes embarrassing basic questions than make a lifelong habit of not seeking answers.

    If you’re experiencing personal difficulties. Sometimes life can throw you a curveball, so if you find your academics suffering because of life circumstances, a faculty member can point you to the right resources for help.

    Don’t stay on the sidelines

    Remember, just 20 or 30 minutes with your professor could be the key to unlocking a huge opportunity for your future success. If the standard office hours don’t work for your schedule, ask to make an appointment. No matter what, you’ll stand out — and you might just get a mentor, a professional connection or even a friend out of it.

    Tips for students to improve how they communicate with professors.

    Key points

    • For college students, a little emotional and social intelligence always helps when trying to build a harmonious relationship with a professor.
    • It’s important for college students to take responsibility for their own learning journey, which includes owning and mastering the coursework.
    • Tips to help students communicate better with professors include avoiding tactics such as whining, haggling, and threats.

    Being a student can be humbling, especially when the professor seems arrogant or incompetent. Ideally, your professor will become your mentor and eventually evolve into a friend or colleague after graduation. Most of us love to develop those peer-like relationships that transition from the professor/student power dynamic. We are proud of you and love hearing about your achievements and how are applying our course content to the real world.

    The students who become our friends took responsibility for their learning journey. Others were more difficult. Those students may want to avoid asking for a reference letter or social media request, and they shouldn’t assume we will stay in touch. We are generally happy to never hear from people who commit these dirty dozen.

    1. Refer to the assignments as “your assignment.” The professor creates and assigns the learning assessment (e.g., project, exam, paper, thesis, presentation, quiz, etc.), but it is really your assignment. The ownership is on you to complete it and master the content. Our role is to facilitate your learning journey by exposing you to new content, concepts, and ideas, as well as providing constructive feedback. It is our responsibility to embrace all of the above.

    2. Haggle about grades. Every professor has their own method behind the madness of their grading system. It had to have been approved long before it was introduced to you. What is the point of arguing if you do not agree with their point system? They will not change it for you. Arguing about grades is a fight you will never win. If a student is really putting in the effort, I will happily bump them up a few points to the next grade. When students have argued with me about their grade, I share that their grade is most likely inflated and I am happy to recalculate point for point. Nobody has ever taken me up on that. Learn what you can and cannot control and move on.

    How to communicate with your professor

    3. Threaten to go to the administration. I got this a lot in my rookie years of teaching in higher education. Although it’s probably been a decade and a half since I heard this, my standard answer has always been, “Go ahead; and if you do, show him/her/them the assignment with my comments, the rubric I used to grade it with additional feedback, and our email correspondences.” What can really be achieved by complaining to the department chair or dean? Good luck if you want to be that lone soldier that starts an uphill battle against an army. Practice your best calming techniques and move on.

    4. Ask the professor to tell you what you missed. Mastering the course content is your responsibility. Show up to the classroom early, put away your phone, and try to make a friend or two in class. Call on a “study buddy” or project co-participant for a recap if you miss the class. Never ask the professor for a redo. The expectation is that you will find out what you missed and be prepared to step in when you return. Of course, reach out to your professor when you have questions about the assignments or course content.

    5. Whine about the class. You have every right to hate the assignments and the way the course is run, but never complain to the professor. We truly do not care if you think the literature review is too long or you think the pop quizzes are stupid. Either deal with it or drop the class and take it with someone else. Save your constructive critiques for the course evaluation and whine to your study buddies.

    6. Give unnecessary details when communicating what you need. Life happens. We can certainly relate to child care issues, illnesses, family emergencies, and personal crises that throw us off our game. Since most of you are adults with grown-up responsibilities, we get when life hijacks your academics. Ask for what you need and spare us the details. Keep it simple like, “I am requesting an extension for the paper deadline; I will submit it by x date. Does that work for you?”

    7. Break trust. How do I know a student has plagiarized? My gut is never wrong. Whenever I have caught someone plagiarizing, I get an uneasy feeling in my stomach that prompts me to either copy and paste a random paragraph into Google or run the document through a program like Safe Assign, which checks to see how much was lifted from someone else without proper citation. Do not think of plagiarizing because you will not get away with it and you will lose respect and credibility.

    8. Not follow directions. The course expectations, learning objectives, and logistics (format in which to submit assignments, how to communicate with us, participation norms for virtual and in-person learning environments) should be clearly stated on the syllabus and/or the course web page. Read everything so you are familiar with what is there and reach out if you have questions. It’s better to ask us a simple clarifying question than to go rogue and get it wrong.

    9. Ask questions that are on the syllabus. The syllabus is the official course contract between professor and student. When you have questions, there is an expectation that you have already reviewed the course materials. If you ask questions like, “How much of our grade is this assignment worth?” If it is clearly stated in the course materials; expect to hear, “Look it up.” If you have questions about the details, then please ask.

    10. Not reach out when you have questions. This might sound like a contraction to the aforementioned; however, we do care about your learning journey. If you are struggling with the course content, readings, assignments, please reach out. You are not bothering us. It is more bothersome to know that you are struggling and not reaching out. Use your voice and assert your needs!

    11. Not respect our boundaries. This is related to following directions, but worth the separate mention, since respecting other people’s boundaries (as well as setting your own) is a life skill. The syllabus and course web page should clearly state office hours and the best way to communicate. Again, ask questions if you are not clear. Although the professor’s cell phone might be on the syllabus, do not text unless you are clearly invited, such as responding to the professor’s text or if it is clearly stated on the syllabus.

    12. Name drop. Nothing screams desperation more than name-dropping. Nobody cares if you are related to a celebrity or a prominent person who is connected to the university. Regardless of whether you are the famous one or just well-connected, your purpose for being there is the same as every other student. Thus, you are treated like everyone else and expected to fulfill course requirements, since nobody is going to wave a magic wand and excuse you from anything. Save yourself from embarrassment and fulfill your purpose for being there.

    When it comes to dealing with professors, a little emotional and social intelligence goes a long way. Be the student that everyone is happy to hear from; not the one that makes us cringe when we hear your name.

    Constant upheaval has left many university staff and students feeling overwhelmed. Wendy Zajack talks through basic principles for keeping digital communications clear and concise to avoid information overload

    Wendy Zajack

    You may also like

    How to communicate with your professor

    How to communicate with your professor

    How to communicate with your professor

    Key Details

    This video will cover:

    01:20 Understanding the different groups you are communicating with and their needs

    02:12 Repeat important messages more than feels necessary

    03:16 Keep messages and instructions simple, clear and easy to follow

    Transcript

    Hi, I’m Wendy Zajack. I’m a faculty director and an assistant professor of the practice at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.

    And I wanted to talk today about some advice I have, as we move into a new year, for effective communication both with students and with our staff that can help them not be overwhelmed or feel like they’re just kind of out of control.

    And obviously in 2020 I think we all experienced that feeling, probably many times. So, here are four tips, real simple, to keep you kind of making sure that you’re on point with your communication this year.

    So, I just finished teaching a business communication class this semester, so near and dear to my heart.

    I also spent, before I became a professor, my corporate career in communications and marketing, working for large multinational organisations, so lots of these apply in either sector.

    But I think good communication actually is usually fairly simple and intuitive. We just have to remember to sort of get back to our basics and what we’re trying to communicate.

    So, my rule number one is remember your audience. So, think about who you’re communicating to. Think about where they are when they receive your communication.

    This is really important, especially with students, if you’re working with undergrad populations. I work with masters populations so their ages can be very different, but really thinking about where are they, where do they like to receive their communication, and how do they like to receive their communication is really, I think, first and foremost the best way to make it effective.

    So is it by text? Is it by email? Is it by a voice kind of audio thing? So, thinking about that, and thinking about who they are and what type of message, I think, is number one.

    And that’s in any communication. I think the other point that’s really critical is repetition.

    This is so easy to forget because we feel like we’re repeating things a million times, but what I’ve said to many, many a corporate executive is at the point that you are feeling completely tired and sick of your message, it’s probably the point that someone in your audience is hearing it for the first time.

    So, repeat, repeat, repeat.

    I think for student communication this is really true. Put it in the syllabus, make an announcement about it. I know it can feel like coddling at times, but I think just given the state of communication and the number of channels and the number of messages we’re all being bombarded with, if it’s important, repeat it, and repeat it often.

    It’s just a normal part of being a human being. I don’t even think that it’s showing that we are not caring about things.

    I just think it’s the state of the world and the state of communication and the state of information that we have to repeat things a lot.

    So, remember your audience, repeat. And then the other point is keep it really simple. So good communication to me is simple communication. I think it is way harder to construct a message that’s very clear and concise.

    But spend some time editing, spend some time bulleting and highlighting the things that are really critical for your audience and say everything in a very simple way.

    This is not the time to show off your amazing vocabulary. I think good communication is using really simple words, really accessible words, and words that are understandable easily and don’t need a lot of explanation.

    And then the last point, I think, in terms of managing overflow and managing stress, make everything really easy for your audience.

    When you’re communicating something, put in a link that shows them where they can go for information.

    If you have the opportunity in your syllabus, in the learning management system, put in a calendar invite or a calendar link so that it shows up in their calendar.

    I think that makes it easy for them to understand what you are asking them to do, and then makes it easy for them to do it.

    So four simple tips: remember your audience, repeat, keep it simple, and make it easy.

    And I think that will help you out as we move into another year – and hopefully a successful year.

    This video was produced by Wendy Zajack, faculty director and assistant professor of the practice at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.

    Wednesday April 27, 2022

    How to communicate with your professor

    As a professor with a Ph.D. in communication ethics, Melba Vélez-Ortiz prided herself on her excellent communications skills. But her partnership with her guide dog Chad taught her to communicate in entirely new ways.

    Melba learned about the benefits of a guide dog after moving to Grand Rapids, Michigan to teach at Grand Valley State University. A counselor whose father received his guide dog from GDB helped Melba learn about the enhanced benefits a guide dog could provide, however that meant facing her longtime fear of dogs.

    “The whole experience for me was life changing. So intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually my training at GDB was by far the most complete educational experience I’ve ever had because I had to overcome my fear of dogs and learn to connect with another species that doesn’t use speech to communicate.”

    A tenured professor, Melba’s work is rooted in communication, culture, disability, and ethics. A bold and vocal bi-lingual communicator, Melba has created programs surrounding communication and culture, authored books, published articles in peer-reviewed journals, and presented papers at conferences in her field.

    Driven by a philosophy developed by José Vasconcelos called “Happy Pessimism,” Melba accepts her blindness. She doesn’t expect things to be amazing, but she expects to work her hardest to make whatever change is possible. She credits Chad, for giving her the enhanced “confidence and freedom” she had been yearning for.

    Melba identifies herself as “a person who opens doors” for others who work hard to achieve their goals, and she brings this enthusiasm to GDB’s Alumni Board as a member of the Board. “Conversations with Melba are always thought-provoking, uplifting, and exciting,” says Theresa Stern, GDB’s VP of Outreach, Admissions, and Alumni.

    Melba says she is “eternally indebted to every single donor” at GDB and everyone in GDB’s entire community. “Guide Dogs for the Blind is not only wildly successful, which is a testament to how well it is run, it invests in programs that change people’s lives—and not just client’s lives but the lives of those who raise guide dog puppies, foster dogs, and volunteer on campus.” She keeps in touch with Chad’s puppy raisers and was particularly touched when they reached out to see how she and Chad were faring during the height of the pandemic. “Chad loves a challenge. He loves his job of getting me safely from point A to point B. He missed being on a busy college campus and my students missed seeing him.”

    Now back in the classroom, Melba says Professor Chad is once again in his element. Chad earned his doctorate when Melba was awarded tenure. Both their photos hang in a display case that reads: Meet your professor. “When students see Chad’s photo, they know there’s a special partnership between a human and an animal that’s magical and they get to experience this magic,” says Melba. “He’s the master teacher here. I just walk beside him. We’ve got quite the partnership going. We’re a walking billboard for what’s possible, and I couldn’t ask for a bigger privilege.”

    Pictured: Melba Vélez-Ortiz and Chad. Photos by Valerie Hendrickson and Amanda Pitts; University Communications/Grand Valley State University

    Contacting your professors is something you’ll probably have to do frequently throughout college. Probably more often than you’d prefer. There’s no need to be intimidated, but there are a few things you should keep in mind before reaching out.

    The most important thing to keep in mind is that any email you send to your professor should be written with a professional tone. Remember, the person you’re addressing has the ability to make a drastic impact on your education. Your professor, as an expert in their field, holds the key to the information you need and can even help point you in the right direction toward your future career. It is important to make a positive impression every time you contact them, as your correspondence can influence whether they seek you out for additional opportunities for growth, including internships and assistantships.

    If you’re uncertain about your ability to write professionally, there are a few tools available to help you gain confidence and correct any mistakes. For instance, the text-editing service Grammarly offers a free browser extension to help users write correctly, checking for syntax, spelling, punctuation, and style. Its corrections and modifications come with helpful explanations, allowing you to make informed decisions about how you edit your final draft. Tools like Grammarly are invaluable for any student, providing real-time editing for not only emails to faculty, but also any kind of class writing assignment.

    Tips for emailing your professor:

    Use your academic account.

    • You have a .edu email address for a reason! Don’t communicate with your embarrassing “harrystyles_luvr13xx” email address from the middle school

    Make the subject line clear.

    • The sooner your professor knows what you’re asking, the sooner they’ll be able to help you.

    Use a professional greeting.

    • Avoid addressing professors as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” Acknowledge their status and make sure you know their correct titles (Dr., Professor, etc.

    Thoroughly identify yourself.

    • Even if your class size is small, your professor has plenty of other responsibilities, classes, and students. Help your professor recognize you quickly by introducing yourself with your first and last name as well as the title and section number of your class.

    Remain formal.

    • Remember: this is not a text message! Do not use abbreviations, emojis, or slang.

    Communicate clearly and concisely.

    • If you cannot articulate your specific need in one or two sentences, give them an idea of what you need help with and ask to set up a face-to-face meeting with them.
    • Your professor is a human being with feelings, so “please” and “thank you” goes a long way. And it never hurts to add a line wishing them a great weekend or good afternoon!

    End with a formal acknowledgment.

    • “Thank you,” “Best,” and “Sincerely,” followed by your first and last names are always safe choices.
    • Remember that your professors may have to keep track of hundreds of students at a time. If they don’t get back to you promptly, follow up in person either before or after your next class with them.

    For a bit of extra help, we’ve also provided some examples and practical tips for specific instances in which you may be writing to a professor:

    Inquiring about Your Grade

    When reaching out with a question or concern regarding your grade, remember that, for privacy purposes, your professor is not likely to share certain information with you via email. If you’re unable to attend their office hours to ask your question in person, request to set up an appointment at a time that otherwise fits your schedules. Below is a good example of how to email a professor about your grades.

    Good afternoon Professor X,

    My name is X X, and I am in your Thursday-morning English I class, section 4231. I am unable to attend your office hours this week, but I was wondering if I could set up an appointment with you to discuss my grade on Essay #1. I did not understand some of your notes and was hoping to meet with you for clarification. Please let me know if you have any availability this week.

    Thank you for your time and have a great evening.

    Asking for a Reference

    Another occasion in which you may need to email a professor is when you’re looking for a professional reference. Again, your professor is a respected expert in their field, so their recommendation can do wonders for both your academic and professional growth. That said, it’s important to make your request for their reference as easy as possible for them; they are busy and have likely received many similar requests from other students. Be polite, concise, and clear as you communicate exactly what you need from them. And if you need their reference by a specific deadline, make sure you include it in your request with ample time to complete your request. Below is an example of such an invitation.

    This is X X from your ABC2000 class of Fall 2017. I thoroughly enjoyed your class and want to say thank you for a great semester. I am now applying for the _________ Program, which is a curriculum designed to enhance the professional skills of engineering majors at this university. I am emailing you to inquire whether you would be willing to comment on my potential as an environmental engineering researcher? I would simply need to provide your name as a reference along with your contact information.

    Thank you once again. I greatly appreciate your time.

    Asking a General Question

    Last, but not least, really take care to check your class syllabus or assignment instructions before asking your professor a question via email. In many cases, professors will have already addressed several of the most frequently asked questions within the first few days of class at the beginning of the semester. Review all the materials you’ve collected from the class before approaching your professor. The last thing you want to do is bug them about something they’ve already given you an answer to. Communicate a level of commitment and respect by thoroughly reviewing your information and ensuring that you still need to contact your professor.

    Other students in your class can prove to be another valuable resource. Each of your professors likely teach multiple classes, conduct research out of class, or do work for another job on campus or elsewhere. They are not obligated to communicate the same information multiple times! If you were unable to attend a class, do not ask your professor about what you missed. Always go to a classmate first!

    Your professor’s goal is to help you succeed, but it is not their responsibility. Show them your dedication to success with adequate preparation and careful language. Learning to write clear, concise, professional emails to your professors is an excellent practice in taking ownership of your education—not to mention good training for future communication with an employer!

    It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced all of us to make substantial changes to our daily lives. Businesses have, where possible, moved to remote work; K-12 schools have by necessity embraced distance learning; and many college students who had formerly been enrolled in on-campus courses now find themselves in unanticipated online learning.

    While online learning carries many positive benefits that make it the preferred choice for millions of students, it doesn’t come without its challenges—especially for students who are more familiar with in-person courses.

    Below are seven tips from Jonathan Small, associate vice president of online learning at Regis College, that you can use to successfully adjust your study habits during the transition to fully online learning.

    Tips for Taking Online Classes

    1. Look ahead to understand your assignment due dates.

    Typically, students who take online courses interact with the subject matter and their assignments through a learning management system (LMS). Online classes at Regis, for example, take place through Moodle; other popular tools include Blackboard and Canvas.

    Whichever LMS your courses utilize, it’s crucial that you spend time familiarizing yourself with the interface and with your specific assignments. Look ahead at your scheduled assignments, and take particular note of your due dates so that you can better craft a realistic plan for completing all of your work.

    “In an online class, things typically run in a modular format, where you might not have the normal structure of a face to face class,” says Small. “You often don’t have that physical reminder of being in the classroom that work is due. There’s a lot going on in an online class, and students need to organize their time.”

    2. Set time to study and work in batches.

    At Regis, as at other universities, many students pursue their education alongside other responsibilities and obligations. Work, childcare, family obligations, internships and the like all compete for your time and attention, making it critical that you create a schedule that allows you to meet all of those challenges.

    “Chunking tasks, as I like to call it, gives students a way to feel accomplished,” says Small. “You feel like you’re progressing. Additionally, scheduling time specifically dedicated to studying will help you build and stay on a routine.”

    3. Communicate regularly for group projects.

    College courses often include group projects and assignments designed to be completed alongside others in your class. This fact is just as true for online courses as it is for in-person courses. But whereas in-person courses facilitate group projects by bringing groups together face-to-face, online learners must take particular care to ensure that they are communicating effectively, says Small.

    Whether it is via Zoom, email, phone call, instant message, shared documents, or another form of communication altogether, groups must prioritize communication if they are to avoid confusion.

    “Find a system that works for everyone in the group, and follow up frequently,” says Small.

    4. Divide up group work early.

    Along those lines, it’s also important for groups to divide up different tasks in an appropriate way so that everyone is responsible for their fair share, and so that everyone understands exactly what they’re responsible for completing.

    “Make sure that when you’re doing group projects, you look far ahead so that you can divide the work up and coordinate your efforts,” says Small. “That way, if something isn’t due for a few weeks, everyone can use their available time to chip away at their tasks when they are able to.”

    5. Touch base with your professor often.

    Just as it’s important for you to communicate with your groupmates and your classmates, it’s important that you also communicate with your professor or instructor. Make the effort to touch base with your professor, whether you have questions about an assignment or just want to let them know where you’re struggling.

    “One of the keys to success is talking to your instructor,” says Small. “Don’t struggle with questions or concerns on your own; the professor is there to help you. A five minute phone call with your instructor can save you days of stress. You’ll feel better, you’ll get clarification, and you’ll be more successful.”

    Don’t think that you can only communicate when something is going wrong, though. Letting your professor know when something has gone right—whether it’s a lesson that you took particular value out of, or appreciation for a groupmate – can go far in helping you build a relationship with your instructor.

    6. Participate as much as possible.

    Whether you’re taking courses online or in-person, participation is crucial to success. In addition to showing your professor that you’re engaged, active participation shows that you’re learning, and that you’re willing to put in the effort that’s required to be successful. While education is often perceived by some as a passive process, participation turns it into an active process.

    Simply put, the more you participate as a student, the more you’ll get out of your experience, says Small.

    7. Be flexible.

    Online learning requires flexibility, for yourself as well as others in your course—including your professors.

    “Remember that your instructors had to make the switch to remote teaching in as little as a weekend’s time, the same amount of time that it took for you to transition into online learning,” says Small.

    “Nobody planned this. By simply demonstrating empathy, being active in your course material, talking to your classmates and instructor, it’s possible to recreate the community that you had on campus and make this transition as smooth as possible.”

    Putting In The Work

    While online learning may not have been your first choice, embracing the advice outlined above can help you get the most out of your courses. Above all, maintaining clear and open lines of communication with your instructors and classmates, and staying engaged in the course material will go far in ensuring success during this challenging time.

    How to communicate with your professor

    Associate Vice President of Online Learning