After teaching solely online for 10 years, my favorite part of being back on campus was being able to make better connections with students. On the first day of class, I always perform my “student human trick”–I learn everyone’s names by the end of class. Of course, I warn them that, if I can’t remember my own children’s names half the time, it’s likely I’ll forget theirs, too! 😉
I think meeting in students in person eases their mind about taking an English course. They can tell that I’m approachable and I care about them by the way I speak to them in class. So how do I replace this in my online classes?
The quick answer is, “I can’t.” However, while I can’t replicate or replace that valuable in person connection, I can work to create the feeling that I am present in my online courses and that I care about students’ success. Interestingly, I wrote about this very topic 2 1/2 years ago, and my thoughts haven’t really changed much since then!
- In my course design, I try to be as personable as possible. I don’t speak in jargon, but try to speak as I would in the classroom. I include videos of myself, from a course tour to snips of classroom videos where I’m explaining important concepts. I want students to see my face and hear my voice.
- In my course, I include an About Me that includes a photo and information about myself that I hope gives students confidence in my abilities and makes me more relatable.
- For the introductions discussion the first week of class, I respond to every single student. It’s not always an in depth response, but students know that I’m paying attention and that I care enough to welcome them to class. I always use their name in my responses.
- Beyond the first week of class, I always take time to pop into the course discussion each week and respond to as many students as I have time for. Again, this shows students that I am around and that I actually care about their responses. In addition, it gives me an opportunity to provide tips about upcoming writing assignments and help students make connections with the material they’ve read and the work they are doing in class.
- I use the messenger in the Canvas Gradebook to send students reminders when they are missing assignments, often giving them an opportunity to submit late, especially in the first few weeks of class. This helps students to feel like they have someone in their corner.
- I ask students to open up to me fairly early on by asking them to write a letter to themselves encouraging them to continue should they meet an obstacle during the course of the semester. They have to consider their purpose in taking the course and how it relates to their purpose in life. This opens up an avenue of communication. I take time to respond to each letter.
- I make office hours clear–I have a link right in my course so that students can schedule an appointment with me with one click.
- I check in with students at key points during the semester. About every 2-4 weeks, I do a quick scan of the gradebook. Who’s clearly not getting work in? I check my People tab to see who’s participating. And I reach out to folks who might need extra help.
- In some classes, I schedule mandatory conferences with students so that they can talk with me. This gives me a way to check in with each person individually and make sure they are doing well in the course and in general.
- Sometimes I send cards. Whether I send cards that include students’ letters to encourage them to keep going mid-semester or whether it’s a simple nice to meet you card at the beginning of the semester, that card is tangible evidence that I really do care about how students are doing.
Students, like all of us, want to be seen and known. By using their names and participating in the course in an active way, I can help students feel known, even if I don’t get to see them in person. I do all I can to show students that I genuinely care about them. It doesn’t replace that face to face connection, but it does give students a better chance of succeeding in their online courses.