Clear communication is one of the most important part of an online course and it is critical to the success of teaching online. Here are some ideas for communicating with your students:
- Have a weekly summary email, or announcement, to all your students. Summarize what is due and what to expect in a certain week. Also include information about their overall performance last week and if there are any items that need clarification. You can add instructions as to where to find resources and how to contact you for help or clarification as well. I try to make these very conversational and friendly because students want to connect with your personality.
- Show your personality and humor in the class because students want to connect with you. We are distanced from students online and providing more of your personal style helps students feel connected to the class. Even if you are the dad joke kind of person, you should feel comfortable sharing your personality to your students.
- Do not be a bystander in the course discussion boards. Respond to your students and further the line of questioning. Try to play "devil's advocate" and push the students to think about their ideas in more depth.
- Make your contact information clear and available in multiple spots. For example, state your contact information at the beginning of the course and in the syllabus, but also consider putting it in the weekly announcements, or when your wrapping up a discussion.
- Be responsive to emails, questions, or other forms of communication you have on your course site. If you are not available, make an announcement that you are not available to your students to set expectations on your presence in the class for that time period. Being unavailable and unresponsive to students can create anxiety and cause issues for your class. For example, not being available the days leading up to a major project due date might cause confusion and worry among the class.
Additional Communication Considerations
Online communication can go wrong because it is harder to determine context and see body language when reading online content. Here are some issues to keep in mind when communicating online:
It is difficult to communicate contextual clues in written content. When we communicate in person we can use body language and facial expressions to help convey our meanings. Written material is without context and this leaves a lot up to the interpretation to the reader. For example, an email or announcement might simply say, "Your assignment is due." and it can be taken positively (the instructor is providing a helpful reminder), neutrally (ok the assignment is due), and negatively (there is a period at the end of the sentence - the instructor must be upset). Adding something like "A friendly reminder, your assignment is due." might help put a more positive swing on the communication. Even the punctuation at the end of a sentence might change the perceived meaning.
Here are links to a presentation about using comedy in the classroom and public speaking:
Here are some ways to show your personality in an online class environment:
Have a discussion board where students can socialize, and you can monitor the conversations and add in your own thoughts. Sometimes I start by showing a picture of my dog and motorcycle.
Think about sharing a very short (2 minutes or less) welcome video to introduce yourself and the class. You might also want to have a weekly introductory video to help with showing your presence in the class.