How to Succeed in an Online Class as an International Student

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As our world becomes increasingly digital, new aspects of our lives move to online formats. In many ways, this has made life more convenient, but this is not always the case.

For international students who are studying in the United States, participating in class can be a challenge if you are not confident in your English skills. This becomes even more true in an online course, where much of the communication is done asynchronously and in writing.

If you are thinking about taking or are about to take an online class, here are five tips that may greatly improve your chances for success:

1. Interact with honesty and openness
Communication opportunities in online courses are often more limited than in traditional classes, and you may not be able to physically see the individuals who you are communicating with. As a result, you may feel self-conscious about your ability to articulate your thoughts in English (especially written English). Rather than pretending that you are fluent or remaining silent, consider being honest about the extent of your language and communication skills at the beginning of the term.

This might seem embarrassing, particularly if you do not know any of the other students, but you may be surprised by the resulting show of support. You may also find that your honesty makes your peers more conscious of how they communicate, which can partially limit any potential confusion.

2. Speak with faculty frequently
One of the most challenging aspects of online learning is the limited availability of its instructors. This is not always a conscious decision—some professors simply cannot prioritize their online students the way they might like to.

In light of this challenge, contact your instructor before the semester starts, and ask to arrange a weekly or biweekly check-in session via telephone or video chat. These brief check-in sessions will provide you with the opportunity to ask questions, request clarification, and receive feedback in a private environment. You will also avoid the hassle of trying to make last-minute contact with a professor.

3. Review course materials in advance
More often than not, an online class—like other classes—will include handouts, resource lists, and other required course materials. Fortunately, because online classes are planned in advance, these materials will likely be made available to you prior to the start of the course. It is thus in your best interests to review them as soon as possible.

Carefully reviewing these documents and texts will not only give you an idea of what to expect in the coming weeks, it will also enable you to identify any questions or potential challenges that you might encounter along the way. As you browse the materials, keep a list of comments or questions that you can discuss with your instructor. You may not receive all the answers that you are seeking, but by knowing what to expect in advance, you are much more likely to overcome challenges when they arise.

4. Find a partner
Another reason why online classes can be difficult is decreased interaction with your peers. This can sometimes mean that the experience feels isolating and unsupportive.

Rather than endure these feelings, ask your professor if there is a fellow student whose skills would complement or enhance your skills. You can also post an inquiry on the class message board. For instance, if there is a student who speaks your first language, ask if he or she would be willing to make him- or herself available for questions, partnering on projects, or simple socialization.

5. Ask for help
This piece of advice may seem obvious, but asking for help is not always easy. Nevertheless, the fastest way to solve a problem is by being direct. If you are confused, or otherwise require clarification or assistance, do not hesitate to speak to your instructor. Everyone struggles from time to time, and the individuals around you may be sympathetic, supportive, and willing to help—but you will not know until you ask.

David White is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world’s largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.

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