When Your Online Professor Calls You, It's Time to Get on the Ball

A surprise call from my professor changed my perception of online courses.

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It’s typical for several online students to drop out of the course each semester, my professor said.

When I got to the newsroom yesterday, my online course could not have been further from my mind.

In my head I was recapping the last few days, which I'd spent traveling with my parents in North Carolina. And since I'd recently aced my first graded test, I felt like a respite from work was in order.

I had emails to catch up on and stories to write, not to mention a little red light on my phone representing the handful of public relations types who wanted my attention.

As I zipped through the voice mails, making notes on some and deleting others halfway through, I came across a voice that caught me off guard.

It was my personal finance professor – and she wanted me to call her back immediately.

In a split second, my mind jumped to the worst-case scenario: Somehow my professor, whose title and school I'd never named publicly, had figured out that I was blogging about her class.

The jig was up. She was mad. I would need to involve the bosses.

Then came her next sentence on the voice mail: "Was there a particular reason you didn't finish the second part of the discussion board assignment due two days ago?"

I furrowed my brow. "This can't be," I thought. "I had at least two weeks to wrap that up."

[Discover time management tips for online students.]

I grabbed my syllabus and turned to the page about our discussion board assignments. Sure enough, I'd missed the deadline for our second post. I was supposed to write a thoughtful, well-researched reply to two of my classmates.

Bad news for me: Those two weeks had come and gone.

I was embarrassed, but wanted to rip the Band-Aid off, so I called her back right away.

"I'm sorry," I said, summoning up my best professional voice. "I've got absolutely no excuse for you. I just lost track of time."

"That's too bad," she said. "But it happens to everyone."

In friendly tone, she explained that she was calling every student who missed the deadline to make sure they weren't planning on dropping out of the course. That happens to a few students every semester, she said, though she does her best to prevent it.

There were many other Devons out there who had also missed the boat, she said, and she'd be up calling them until 10 p.m.

[Avoid these mistakes online students make.]

She told me my case was particularly disappointing, because I'd done so well on the test and received a perfect score on the first part of the discussion board assignments. Now I would receive no credit for the second part of the task.

"You're one of the best students," she said, a comment that admittedly went straight to my head.

By the time I hung up the phone, I was pretty impressed.

Although I hadn't had much engagement with my professor since the start of the course, that interaction put a more positive spin on the entire online course experience. I'd had small classes and built relationships with professors as an undergrad at my liberal arts school, but no instructor ever called me to see why I didn't turn in an assignment.

It was certainly an effective tactic to jump-start my time management skills.

Less than two minutes after our call, I finally took the time to make note of all of my upcoming deadlines.

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