For many, the immediate transition to remote teaching due to social distancing measures, means attempting to keep the status quo from their on-campus course and trying to finish out the semester the best they can. Connections with students were already formed in the physical classroom, inside jokes from the semester can continue, and students & teachers both look forward to seeing each other as they’re all in this together (hopefully). Connection is already there and is continuing in a different format. But what happens during the summer and you have a new class, one where you haven’t developed those connections in the classroom? Below I want to outline three ways that you can help foster a connection with your students
One of the most important steps you can take to connect with your students is to welcome them to the course with a brief video introduction. Tell them about yourself with personal highlights such as your family, hobbies, favorite sport teams (or other relative favorites), and more. The key here is just to be yourself and remove the mystery of the online instructor. This will serve to break the ice and make students feel more comfortable in your class.
I suggest to keep this separate from a formal course introduction where you walk through the syllabus, explain course objectives, and give a rundown of the class. This allows students to have a quick introduction to you without feeling the pressure to get started in the class.
After you send out your introduction invite students to a discussion forum to introduce themselves. If your learning management system allows, encourage video introductions. Yes, I realize that video introductions to take longer to watch but just as students are trying to connect with you, you are also needing to connect with your students. Set aside time the first week to watch through these introductions to get to know your students a bit better. Two suggestions on the student introduction forums:
If possible, also hold an informal introductory video conference. This is a great way to casually learn about everyone in your course. Depending on your class size this may or may not allow for the connections that you want.
Consistent communication throughout the course is essential for professor-student connection. At a very minimum, you should be sending out weekly announcements about the course. I suggest that you include both content about the course but also things you would normally share in your on-campus course such as an activity you did over the weekend, something new you learned, or a variety of other things.
While weekly announcements are a must, it will also be beneficial to send out other communication throughout. This can be insights from your reading in the week, an idea generated from a paper you’re working on, or a clarification on an assignment. If you have weekly discussion forums interacting regularly with these and showing your presence will encourage better communication between students.
Note: You are probably not going to naturally remember to send out these weekly announcements or other communication. Set calendar reminders to begin preparing and sending them. If you teach a course on a regular basis put together a template of stock announcements for each week that you are going to send with some of the basic content and what is coming up for the week. You will also want to include some additional contextual information each week as well but this will help save you some time week-to-week.
Equally divide your class by the number of weeks in the semester and individually email students to check in on them. Don’t just ask about how the course is going but also ask how life in general is going. Online students are juggling many responsibilities and the reality is that your course is not the number one priority in their life. Show empathy to your students, relate to them, and be an encouragement. A personal message to each of your students throughout the semester will go a long way in developing that connection.
If you haven’t done so yet, check out Yet Another Mail Merge. This neat little utility will help you send out a customizable email to a list of people.
The more students you connect with your students, the better satisfied they will be, the more engaged they will be, which in turn will produce better students.
Most of you are part of a robust on-campus community. You are able to connect with other faculty, administrators, and students on a daily basis. Your online students do not have this. Being present in an online course take a lot of work. Connection does not happen naturally. Set up a schedule and hold yourself to it. If you do not plan and put in the effort it will not happen.