“…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.

screenshot of student planner

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.

I hope that you and yours are safe and healthy.

Clarity about what our class will look and feel like come March 30th is beginning to dawn. I had thought it would involve some sort of large Zoom meeting, but when I went to my first DLINQ tutorial, I got a “NO, Boomer” right away. They said that because people would be logging in from all over the world, inequities would very soon arise, since some would experience an electronic delay while others wouldn’t, and some would have to be up in the middle of the night while others would be there at 10:10 am just like usual. And besides, when anyone dropped a pencil or had a door slam, Zoom would think they were speaking and go full-screen on you personally. So, no Zoom.

Instead, we’re going to use the Canvas Site on our Course Hub Page, with help from Panopto. So—subject to change as I continue to learn the ropes—here is, in general, how I think things will go.

The lecture days will be the most straightforward. I will make a video of my lecture on Panopto and post it to the Canvas Site on our Course Hub Page. You will watch it sometime during that same day, type questions if there is something that needs clearing up, and I will answer them. Everyone will see both your questions and my answers, just as on an in-person lecture day.

On the discussion days, I will make a video that throws out questions to you. It will probably be one continuous video, but one in which, at several points, I will say “OK, pause the video now and write (or video!) a response.” You won’t have to respond at every question-pause, but everyone will have to respond to one or two or three of them (we’ll figure out the number) before my question-throwing video reaches its end. For each class, there will be some sort of time-window in which you will need to respond, but I imagine it will be around 12 hours long, to accommodate people wherever they are hunkered down in the world. I will then read (or watch!) your responses (which everyone in the class will see, just as during an in-person class) and probably make another video responding to some of your answers in turn.

So, you will have one video to watch and maybe respond to on lecture days, and two videos to watch on discussion days, the first of which you will definitely respond to.

And so, while we will do nothing simultaneously with each other (which will take care of the time differences and the accidental noise-chaos), we will all be able to read or hear everything any of us writes or videos.

As far as the syllabus goes, since the College has asked that we drop one week out of the semester, I think it makes most sense to skip the week we are currently missing. Thus, we will simply not cover (X Assignment) and I will drop any (X Topic) material from the Final Exam. Of course if you would like to do those readings, or any part of them, on your own, that would be fine—the article for our discussion day, “XXXX”, is especially fun. But again, you will not be held responsible for any of that material. We will take up Z Topic on March 30th, just as the syllabus indicates.

There will undoubtedly be changes and additions to all this as I continue to learn and practice, but I wanted you to know that swift progress is being made and that we will indeed be able to finish the course in good order. I have left my first awkward, goofy, and pathetic Panopto practice-videos up on the site for your amusement. Click “Discussions” in Canvas. I’ll take them down before the real stuff gets posted.

I will be back in touch at regular intervals as the resumption of our course approaches. For now, e-mail me if you have any questions. Over email, we can also set up a time you could call me at (my cell phone number) for the equivalent of an office visit, if you feel the need.

Good luck and good health to us all,

Ongoing Communication

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.”

Additional Resources

Blank Weekly Remote Teaching Communication Planner for Faculty