Hello once again and let’s take a trip down Friendship Lane. In the days long ago before technology was in the forefront people used to call each other, stop by and visit, walk to school together hence fellowship. Now we text, text, and text some more hence technology is first and foremost. Traditional (ground) students get together to have study sessions, meet at a coffee shop, library, or someone’s home. These study sessions are all fine and dandy if your fellow classmates are a car distance away, hop on a train or meet on campus. What about the online student (new traditional) whose classmates and professors are miles, states, or continents apart? Online students need to form online communities of support, networking groups that lend themselves to being able to communicate with their fellow online students.

The focus of my dissertation research was peer-to-peer networking, and it centered on how doctoral students sought out virtual doctoral communities for support during their doctoral studies. As I have stated before being an online student is basically doing an independent study. As a doctoral student one needs to collaborate with their peers and mentors, be able to bounce ideas of others allowing for critical thinking to turn the wheels. When I started out, as an online student the experience was totally new to me. I had no problem adjusting to the technology side of it but the challenge came when I needed to reach out to a fellow classmates.

In my Master’s cohort we all exchanged phone numbers and locations and then formed our own virtual group. We were able to have real time collaboration and study sessions via a conference call or IM (Skype was not that popular yet). If a fellow classmate(s) lived nearby then we would have a meet-up session. When I started my doctoral program, Skype, Facetime, etc. was used and it made a difference in communication. Being an online student has its positives and negatives within many areas on the spectrum. On one side it provides the convenience being able to attend class without having to go to a ground location but on the same side no physical contact. Being an online student allows one to tailor their personal time and study at ones own pace, but yet again, who can one talk to if there is an immediate problem.

Some schools have hybrid programs (part ground and part online), which allows for a physical weekly or monthly meeting with fellow classmates and the professor. For the most part, doctoral students have a residency that is required. My residency requirement was three meetings for one week at each phase of my program, and that allowed us to meet fellow classmates and professors in person. Once you decide that you are going to enroll in an online program make sure that you have a plan for communication and support apart from your mentor and school. Remember it takes a village!

There are a lot of online doctoral communities on the Internet, including Blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn and even Twitter. These communities are even specialized in terms of research methods and various disciplines. I joined a few and was very glad that I found them for my school did not have any that were directly related to the student or my research interest. A lot of the communities are formed “away” from the home institution/professors in order to have a sense of freedom to express oneself and not be chastised. When joining these online communities, make sure you find out whom the moderator is and who is allowed to join. It should really only be made up of fellow students and no faculty.

Like in anything that one does if you don’t see it, can’t find it, then create it yourself. There is always someone who will join groups for there are a lot of people who are just waiting to become part of something. I enjoyed being an online student and would do it again. I am always looking for a new class to take or something to learn online thru MOOCS. Learning online allows me to go at my own pace and if I have to stop for a while I can always resume when time allows. So create the virtual community for they will come. May everyone have a Happy Thanksgiving. TTFN!!