Does technology connect or disconnect us?
Ask anyone this simple question and you are bound to get vastly different answers. Some might say technology is a connecting tool that allows us to get to know people around the world. Others might say that technology is a hindrance from face-to-face connection. If you have considered enrolling in online classes, there’s a good chance you’ve wondered if you will feel connected in your remote learning online experience.
There is no doubt that the world of online learning is continuously growing. According to a recent Inside Higher Ed study, the number of students enrolled exclusively in fully online programs increased from 3.5 million in the fall 2021 to 5.8 million in the 12-month enrollment data. This leap is not necessarily surprising. With the growing cost of education paired with the uncertainty of the pandemic, it may seem that switching to online education is the obvious solution. Though the learning online experience is efficient, a concern that often arises is the issue of connection. “Will I still get to know other students even though I’m online?” “Will I still build good rapport with my professors?”
For us, the answer is simple: yes and yes.
Off-Campus Class, On-Campus Feel
At Grace College, relationships are important. Step foot on our campus, and you will see professors engaging with students, students hanging out at the campus coffee shop, Bible studies taking place in the dorms, and an intense game of Spikeball breaking out on the lawn. But what if you never set foot on campus? Would that same sense of community exist for Grace College Online students?
Whether it’s in the classroom or on a laptop, every student is part of the community at Grace. Professors and staff are constantly working to create an online learning experience that allows students to thrive, engage, and connect through interactive online education. Professors love to build relationships with their students and provide opportunities for students to get to know one another.
One online professor who is particularly passionate about connectivity is Professor Matt Metzger. Metzger teaches online marketing classes required for a Master of Nonprofit Management degree. His classes have allowed him to connect with students from around the world.
“The learning online experience provides a unique opportunity to interact with a wide variety of people,” says Metzger. “For example, in a current class I’m teaching, I’ve interacted with students from Guatemala, Zimbabwe, and Canada.”
The students in Metzger’s class have gotten to know each other in unique and creative ways. Metzger, along with other professors, has sent care packages or a nice note of encouragement to students to let them know they are appreciated. Students also have the opportunity to utilize video chats to connect.
“Rather than communicating through email only, I believe in interactive online education, which consists of weekly zoom calls with the class. The most recent cohort seems to love the interaction,” said Metzger.
Putting a Name to a Face
For Dr. Jenny Preffer, professor of online graduate counseling, connectedness comes in multiple forms. One of the most notable is the on-campus Residency required for all Master of Clinical Mental Health Counseling students each year they are enrolled in the program. Residency takes the learning online experience to the next level. It consists of counselor preparation and training, evaluation in skill development, and spiritual growth activities facilitated by online and residential faculty members.
“Residency is an important time for everyone to build relationships,” said Preffer. “There is time in small groups so that each cohort gets to know each other. The professors know how important relationships are, so instead of leaving for lunch, they will stay and eat lunch with the students. Some even stay for dinner! After a long day of learning together, we will have game nights in the dorms which is a great time to create meaningful and fun connections.”
One of Preffer’s favorite components goes a bit deeper. Students have a chance to worship together every single day before breaking off into groups.
“Each morning starts with worship and devotionals led by students and faculty,” said Preffer. “This is centered around each year’s theme. Last year, our theme was God as our anchor. I have shared some very personal parts of my testimony, and it has been encouraging to have students reach out afterward and say, ‘I have gone through that too. I needed to hear that I’m not alone.’ The professors in the counseling department are not just faces or names. Students know our stories.”
Connectedness goes beyond Residency in the counseling department. Each class consists of interactive online education, and every session requires a minimum of two zoom classes. Because of the desire for connectivity, many opt to do more.
“Oftentimes when I interview students entering the learning online experience, they say a big draw is our level of engagement,” Preffer says. “Students want more connection, not less.”
Whether it is through group projects, peer presentations, or discussions, there are many opportunities for students to become immersed in the interactive online education experience Grace has to offer. Students are also always welcome to schedule phone or zoom calls with professors.
“We want to have that relationship…to see each other and talk to each other,” says Preffer. “This is why advising meetings are face-to-face rather than email. We have office hours just like on-campus professors do, and we encourage students to use those times to get to know us!”
If you are looking for a flexible, learning online experience but still want an enriching, Christ-centered community, Grace College Online could be a great fit for you!
Check out our interactive online education programs here.