I tend to stick to myself. I participate in discussion boards. I state my opinions and I will even disagree when I need to. I hand in my assignments on time, get good grades and positive feedback. I don’t email the professor frequently to ask questions about assignments or to just pick his/her brain about certain topics. I don’t friend request my peers on Facebook or other social media. If they request me, I’ll accept. I’m the quiet girl behind the computer.
I graduated from Penn State World Campus in May 2012 with a respectable 3.48 GPA. I took seven classes my last semester and made the Dean’s list. So what does all this have to do with you?
A lot. Not taking the time to make meaningful connections as a distance education student can come back to haunt you later. It never occurred to me, really, that I needed to reach out more to my peers and instructors. We were friendly during class, we worked on group projects together, and then we moved on. This was okay with me. I’m a busy mom of four who works full-time. I have family and friends and I’m trying to earn my degree so I can change careers. I’m not looking to add 100+ new friends to my Facebook feed.
After undergrad, I immediately started a master of Educational Technology program and graduated in 2013. Again, I was the girl behind the computer. Then it happened.
I wanted to apply for an instructional design position that was advertised locally. I had never been an instructional designer; my background was in human resources. So I reached out to my instructional design professor to see if she would be willing to write me a reference for the job. I had a 100% in her class and she encouraged me to use certain documents in my final e-portfolio because the feedback from my assignments was great. Since this was my only experience with instructional design, she was my only hope. Her reply was, “I’m sorry. I don’t know you well enough to do that.” Oh, no.
What happens next? I wanted to apply to doctorate programs, and guess what? You need three references for that process.
My advice to you as distance education students: Reach out. Make connections. Friend your peers on professional social media platforms, such as LinkedIn. Build relationships with your instructors and peers.
You never know, if you make meaningful connections, someone might remember you were great at leading your final project and contact you on those platforms when a job comes available where they work.
Shannon Johnson is a mom of four, full-time instructional designer, and career student. She earned a BA in Labor Studies and Employment Relations from Penn State World Campus in 2012 and a master of Educational Technology from Boise State University in 2013. She is currently a student at UMUC earning a master of Distance Education and E-learning: Policy and Management degree. All of her college course work has been conducted online, and she’s proud that she’s never had to go to class in person.