Communicating with Students Online

I am finding that one of the toughest parts of online learning is COMMUNICATION. 

Communication between teacher and students is ALWAYS important but there is another level needed for developing crisp communication lines when you are teaching online.

When you are working with online courses, your students are accessing your materials at different times on different days.  They have different circumstances and questions that often you don’t anticipate.  Sometimes (definitely not often) they find problems with your online materials that aren’t accessible, have conflicting due dates, link to the wrong materials, or are just plain wrong.  The problems need to be fixed and the students need to be informed about the corrections ASAP.   The key is to find a system for connecting with your students that is effective, efficient and useful.

Here are some types of communication that I have been using:

Syllabus – This is the most important tool because it is the premise for your class. This is actually true in any class, but it is especially needed for online courses so that they know the rules when they begin.

Agenda/Schedule/Calendar – I like to call this an agenda because it will may change as time progresses because of changes in the class or innovations that the teacher or students have identified.  It might also be because of unforeseen developments that have caused due dates to be changed or whatever.  It needs to be explicit about the time and date that assignments are due as well as the exact days and times when you and your class will be meeting online in a video conference if you are doing that.

Face-to-Face Video Conferencing (Weekly) – I prefer to ZOOM with my students on a weekly basis.  ZOOM is a wonderful video conferencing program that will allow me (and my students) to see each other at the same time.  This is limited to 24 students (and me) at a time on the screen.  (actually, it will allow up to 99 students at the same time but a single screen will only hold 25 people) It really provides a connection that may not even be seen in a regular class.  The downside of this is that when I teach evening class, sometimes we have to watch students eat their chili or sandwiches during class, but that is just part of the game. =-)

Face-to-Face Video Conferencing (Individual/Team) – Invariably, I meet with students outside of the weekly session sometime throughout the semester. This might be with a team of 3 or 4 students to discuss their progress on an assignment or it might involve meeting with them individually to discuss their topic for the Literature Review they will be writing this semester.

Weekly Emails – It is easy to overwhelm our students with emails.  You send out an email and then send another to clarify the one before.  I have had some students complain that they are getting overwhelmed with emails and lose track of what is important.  I had this same experience when I was taking a course on “teaching online courses” and it was frustrating.  I try to limit my emails to 2 emails per week – One on Monday and Another on Thursday.  The one on Monday is to wake people up for the week and the Thursday one is to comment on their progress so far and remind them of any Friday quizzes or assignments.

Announcements – We are using Blackboard 9 (BB9) for our LMS.  It has an announcement tool.  Actually, I use this Announcements tool to send out my weekly emails.  I write the announcement in BB9 and then click the box to send it out to the class.  This way I have sent them the email reminders and the content of that email is also available on our website in case they need a reminder (or they state that I never sent the email.)

Text Message Reminders – The biggest problem with online courses is described in the saying “Out of Sight – Out of Mind.”  It is so easy to forget about things in a course where you never actually meet with the teacher or students.  My courses have a weekly meeting so that is less of a problem but it isn’t gone.  I have successfully used a Text Messaging system called  I strongly recommend this system because it is easy to use; it is an “Opt-in” program where the students have the option of signing up or not; it allows you to schedule messages in the future; and it has a number of additional options that are being developed and released as we speak.   
       Some teachers feel that this is too much “spoon feeding” for the students, but I know that it has helped my students a great deal (even in on-campus face-to-face courses) because it provides an easy reminder.  They are ALL connected to their phones so this doesn’t even need them to check their email.  It comes to them

Online Office Hours – This is a time when students can Zoom in with me to talk.  I sit at my desk with Zoom open on my computer and work on my many projects (like correcting assignments) while I wait for the Zoom doorbell to sound which indicates that a student has entered my ZoomRoom.  I would really like to have a system that would automatically contact me through my phone or tablet but I haven’t found that with Zoom yet.  I could open Zoom on my phone and wait the same way I do at my desk but I am interested in having a special system that will send me a text with the student’s name (since they signed in) and a special TOOT on my phone.  Haven’t figured that one out yet, but will be looking for it.

So that is my perspective on communicating in online courses.  What do you do?  What have you done that is successful?  How can I improve my communication systems?  What has this inspired you to do?


What’s YOUR opinion?
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