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Tips for Communicating with Instructors

Some students find it intimidating to talk with their instructors—but there’s no need to be nervous. Your instructors are eager to help you, and welcome your questions. Learning to communicate effectively with instructors can be beneficial to your academic success. We asked a few World Campus instructors share their tips on how students can best communicate with faculty.

Elisa Hopkins, Ph.D.; Assistant Professor of Education:

If you need clarification in a course or are having difficulty locating materials, please ask!  Let your instructor know where you have already looked for information (e.g., syllabus, announcements, current lesson).

Lisa Firestine, nursing instructor:

  • Don’t hesitate to seek help if you need it. We are here to help you and truly don’t mind answering questions, providing guidance etc.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate! If there is something that is occurring in your life that is affecting your ability to complete assignments, talk with us about it. We want to help you be successful in the course.
  • Each instructor will have a preferred method of communication. Contact them using that method to ensure the quickest response possible.

Kay Shattuck, adult education instructor:

When in doubt about anything in the course, contact the instructor and be as specific as you can about your confusion. Don’t wait and assume everyone else in the course understands.  Ask the instructor for guidance in how to proceed or where to find something in the course. Help the instructor provide a clear answer by being as specific as you can about what confusions you.  For example, you might write to the instructor, “I’m confused about what the next step is after I do ….”  Or, “Are you asking us to provide a paragraph on each of the scenarios or are we to write the whole paper focused on one of the five?” OR, “The instructions indicate that you’ll accept a PowerPoint or a paper.  Does that mean I should include references on the PowerPoint?”  Specific questions will assist your instructor in understanding where the confusion or misunderstanding might be.  Remember, by asking clarification and organizational questions, you’re helping make the course a better one.  As online instructors, we need to get your feedback so that we can improve the instructions and the organization of the course.

Let your instructor know sooner, rather than later if you’re sick, traveling, or any other reason that you might be running a bit later than usual on the discussion forum or another activity. We need your help in interpreting your silences.  We try to track each student’s presence in the course, and we’ll reach out to you, but it would be helpful if you would, when possible, let us know before we miss you.  For example, let us know if you’ve had the flu and will try to catch up with the course work in two days.  Give us a chance to understand and be as flexible as possible while still meeting the promise of providing you with a quality learning experience.

Let your instructor know if a new concept introduced in the course really strikes your interest.  We want to facilitate your learning, so ask for some suggestions about where you can find out more information about a new concept or idea that strikes your interest.  It might be something that won’t be exploring much in the current course, but something that you would like to learn more about.  We want to help make the learning meaningful to you today and tomorrow.

Amy Dietz, HRER Program Administrator and Adviser:

I would recommend that students let instructors know any challenges they may have about the course as early as possible.  Some students may be concerned about their writing ability and I can offer some tips (such as reading their essays out loud) that may help with editing them for clarity and flow. Instructors want to help students be successful but need to know of potential hurdles before an assignment is due.

Many Penn state students will use their educational credentials to apply for better jobs or apply to grad school.  They will need professional references.  Savvy students will not just do well in a course, but will make sure to stand out to the instructor by going above and beyond in their work product and level of communication.  Students can continue to build their professional network after the course is over. One way is to send the instructor an email occasionally to touch base.  I have received links to articles from students that they thought might be of interest to me. Or, find the instructor on LinkedIn and ask to be linked. When they ask me for a letter of reference or ask if they can use me as a reference, because they have continued to remain connected, I am happy to be of assistance. Online students do not have to find building professional references difficult.