“…communication with students in online classes needs to be frequent, intentional, and multifaceted” (Kristina Wilson)
We may be used to relying on our face to face class time with our students to communicate important class information (“housekeeping” like changes to the syllabus, assignment expectations, homework, etc.), as well as for our affective and community-building communication. In a remote teaching environment, communication and connection requires that you actively reach out to students. But, too much communication can be overwhelming for both faculty and students. In this post, we provide some suggestions for developing a communication strategy for the rest of the semester.
Early Communication: Clear is Kind
We know that our students, like us, will be juggling new circumstances, responsibilities, and expectations. DLINQ interns created a student continuity planner for students to keep track of their courses’ remote learning requirements in one place. We’ve included a link to the planner here, and a sneak-peak screenshot below; we encourage you to take a look, as it will be immensely helpful to your students if you are able to communicate these details as soon as possible.
In addition, in your early communication with students, we suggest that you clearly lay out the new landscape of your course. What is changing, and how? What assignments are shifting, and how? What assignments are going away? What do you expect of the students in terms of what is needed from them to successfully complete the assignments and the course? Check out the example email below, sent by a Middlebury College prof to their students.
For ongoing communication for the rest of the semester, it will be helpful for you to develop a holistic communication plan for how you will communicate with the students in your courses – and, share your plan with them as soon as possible. It will reduce your students’ stress to know when they can expect to hear from you about their coursework, and in what ways.
What might a “frequent, intentional, and multifaceted” communication strategy entail? Broadly, you want to consider how to build in both the formal “housekeeping” type communication related to course structure and materials and expectations, as well as opportunities for informal community building check-ins with students. For example, your weekly communication plan might look like:
- Monday: send out the weekly “housekeeping” in a concise email or Canvas announcement, laying out the plans and expectations for the week.
- Please note that Canvas notification settings need to be adjusted by each faculty member and student. We suggest setting your notification preferences to daily summary.
- Wednesday: check in with how your students are doing. Ask them to post a meme that describes their day to your Canvas discussion board or Microsoft Teams. For more individual check-ins, use email or Zoom office hours.
- Friday or Saturday: send a week-in-review message that highlights some of the things that went well, and reviews sticky points that may need further support or exploration (and shares resources for students to do so).
In addition to these scheduled interactions, you might also have some ongoing spaces for communication and collaboration. For example, you might create an AMA (Ask Me Anything) or Q&A discussion board in Canvas where students can ask questions about the course content and structure. Encourage students to respond to each other, too. For a less formal space, you might create a Class Café discussion board where students can post more informal and lighthearted updates and sharing.
Keep in mind that although remote teaching environments tend to be text-heavy, you can branch out and use audio, video, and images to communicate with your students. Posting a meme is one example; another example is that you might record your week-in-review message as an audio file for students to listen to.
Finally, frequent and intentional communication doesn’t mean that you need to be always available. Setting clear expectations for, and boundaries around, response time is appropriate, and needs to be clearly communicated to students. You may wish to set a policy such as “I will respond to your e-mail as quickly as I am able, often within a few hours. However, please allow up to 48 hours for me to respond.” Or, “I will respond to your email within 24 hours, except for Saturdays and Sunday morning.”