Making Individualized Connections with Online Students

In the absence of meeting your students in a face to face course, how can instructors make individualized connections with their students in the online course environment.

Introduce yourself and demonstrate to the students that you have a passion for the subject of the course. Provide a video introduction. Provide your professional biography and a picture. Encourage students to do the same in the first discussion forum.

Give students a choice. If you are an educator who truly differentiates, you will give students choices on assignments, projects, etc. Instead of authoring a paper every week, give students the choice of creating a short video, podcast, or presentation. In addition, provide choices in disseminating information. Read this article or watch this video. Providing students with choices gives them an investment in the course.

Review the instructions for assignments/discussion/assessments. Go over them and go over them, again.  Ensure that all instructions are clear and with step-by-step details, if necessary. Students can get easily frustrated when instructions are not clear. 

All students learn differently, and students in an online classroom are no exception. Provide students with multiple opportunities and formats for learning, including videos, audio lectures, and project choices that help engage and encourage learning for all students and preferences. Differentiated instruction promotes learning for all students, as well as encourages engagement in the online classroom.

Encourage Peer Review and Engagement. Encourage students to communicate with their peers. Peer communication allows students to develop a network of support, rather than have students only rely on the instructor. Allow students an opportunity to get to know one another in an introductory thread, and encourage students to connect throughout the course. Online learning can be lonely, but it does not have to be. Students can learn to develop a community in the online classroom.

Course Announcements

Create an announcement for each module. Give students the threads between modules in each announcement. For example, in last week’s readings, we explored….This week, we will be using that knowledge and applying it to…

Announcements can also be the place where your personality shines through. Give extra instructional help on areas that you know are challenging for students. Provide some of your professional experience in the subject/content area. Update announcements during the week, as needed. These practices demonstrate that you care and are an active part of the class.

To maintain an instructional presence in the course, use the announcements as an area to do some online teaching. If students typically have issues with a specific part of the course, provide additional information and assistance to answer questions before they are asked. The announcements area is your chance to “teach”. You can include tutorials, additional resources, etc…

Go beyond the university requirement of posting a weekly announcement. Be accessible and respond to student inquiries in a timely manner. Provide substantive feedback and positive critique. Inject some fun into the classroom with a story or anecdote. Learn the mechanics of an online course. Become fluid in the learning management system. 

As an educator, you are trying to provide students with the best educational experience whether it be online or “in-seat”. Think of things you do in your real life courses and how they can be translated into digital format. Do not be afraid to experiment.