A Faculty Member’s Guide to the Key to Success in an Online Graduate Program

Author: Mike Kohler, Brian Lamb School Instructor

When the topic “What to Expect in an Online Graduate Program” arose, I jumped on it like a business traveler seeking an electrical outlet at the airport. But then when it came time to write, my conscience kicked in and I had to reverse my initial thinking.

You see, I first contemplated a stuffy “how to” manual approach, with advice about exploring the About This Course, checking the grading rubrics, etc.

Boring! (Although, I might add, quite necessary.)

Instead, as my fingers neared the keyboard, my brain sent an urgent message to them. Three words sum up the best advice I can give: Engage! Write. Engage!

1.)    Engage!

Yes, the beauty of an online graduate program is its asynchronous nature that allows us all to manage our time effectively. But the ease of an asynchronous platform can be a pitfall if we aren’t cognizant of the importance of immediately and actively engaging with one another in the environment.

Frankly, from the instructor side, I have a distaste for “mailing it in,” asynchronous communication from students that is based on reading the assignment instructions, tapping the standard sources listed in the syllabus and then pasting in what is perceived as the minimal requirements to match the rubric.

I challenge all students – in Week One and throughout the program – to explore how to make the platform as synchronous and active as possible.

What is your voice really like? For textbook-sounding narrative … well, I’ve already read them and don’t need to “hear” them pasted in again. Your classmates and I are there as your ad hoc board of advisors – let’s all help one another!

2.)    Write.

I included this command as a declarative sentence for a reason. Whether you’ve entered the program for a Graduate Certificate in Strategic Communication Management or a Master of Science in Communications, this is not the minor leagues any more. Now you’re facing big league pitching, so I (and I believe my colleagues) expect that a serious graduate program student will be ready to deliver a higher quality and seriousness than our happy, jolly undergraduate programs may have demanded.

Because our semesters fly by quickly, the major writing assignments are few. Be ready to show your best. Oh, and by the way … if you’re in my course, be pleased with earning a solid A, but not necessarily a perfect score.

3.)    Engage!

This exclamation bears repeating. During Week One and beyond, you’ll discover that the Discussion forum is a big, big deal in more ways than one.

First, it’s an opportunity to truly engage with classmates. I invite you to explore the variety of voices. I also encourage you to be a bit daring and offer a contrary opinion if you have one. Not a Twitter-style rant fight, but civil discourse that flushes out a mix of views that’s healthy for the entire discussion.

And finally, because the Discussion forum is less formal, you have an opportunity to engage with your instructors in a way that distinguishes your personality. We only have a short time together, so let’s have fun and make the most of it!

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Mike Kohler is a member of the online faculty of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 10 courses (20 months) and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

About the Author
Mike Kohler has been a business owner, business coach and communication consultant. He has served as a communications vice president for two of the largest U.S. broadband companies and as a marketing and communications consultant for all types and sizes of organizations.  Stemming from his experience as both a franchisee and master franchisor, Kohler co-authored The Educated Franchisee, a guide for prospective entrepreneurs. He earned his MBA and a Bachelor’s in Journalism from the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.