Communicating With Students
Communicating with Your Students
In a Stanford University guide on the "Ten Best Practices for Teaching Online," the first practice is "Be present at the course site." The author claims that "being present at the course site is the most fundamental and important of all the practices." It is difficult to overstate the importance of maintaining instructor presence in an online course by communicating with students consistently and often.
Communicating expectations for the course and the various learning activities, such as expectations for discussion forums or any synchronous sessions, and communicating updates and answering questions are all crucial to providing a structure to keep students connected to the course.
Objectives of this Page
The objective of this page is to aid faculty in recognizing the reasons for various methods of online communication, such as email; News/announcements; chat; Module Guides, and the importance of instructions to guiding students through the course.
For faculty who would like to receive feedback on their plans for holding communicating with students, the second to last section of this page, titled Your Communication Plan, provides an opportunity for faculty to share their strategies and receive feedback.
Tools for Communicating Online
The two primary asynchronous communication tools for all-class communications in an online course are email and announcements in the LMS ( called News in D2L). It's important to recognize some of the purposes for when to use each and to be consistent with how you use them.
First, note that all ECC faculty are issued two email accounts. The Office email is your email@example.com account that can be accessed by going to webmail.elgin.edu.
The Academic email account is your ECC gmail account, which will be in the format of firstname.lastname@example.org. The first part of the this email address is your user name (first initial, last name, then the last four-digits of your employee ID number). Faculty are issued a student email address because this address is integrated with the Desire2Learn learning management system.
When students click the icon to email their instructor within D2L, it will be sent to this address. You can access these messages via a link in the Employee Portal at elgin.edu/accessECC, via gmail.com, or via a link within D2L for "ECC Student Mail." You may choose to have students use this address to separate your employer communications from your student communications. You may also choose to forward the @student.elgin.edu account to the @elgin.edu account. Because students will frequently contact faculty through D2L, it is important to regularly check your student.elgin.edu account or set it up to automatically forward to your elgin.edu account and check regularly.
Follow these instructions to learn how to set up your student.elgin.edu Academic email to automatically forward any message received to your Office email so that you only have to check one email account for all messages.
Contact the ECC Information Technology Helpdesk for additional support at 847-214-7979.
Reasons to send a class-wide email rather than post an announcement include
- If you want students to respond to the message, such as if you want solicit student input on an assignment option or due date
- When you need to write more than one paragraph. Since it's best to keep Announcements short, lengthier messages are better conveyed through email.
Some suggestions for communicating with students via email include
- State in your syllabus or communicate to students early on how quickly they can expect an email response from you: "I may not respond to an email within the first hour but will respond within 24 hours." An even better suggestion, if you have a scheduled time that you devote to email, is to let students know the time of day that they are mostly likely to receive a response: "You are welcome to email me at any time of day or night, based on what works best for your schedule. If you are hoping for an immediate response, however, note that I check email most frequently between 10am and 1pm."
- Model for students the email etiquette that you'd like students to maintain. If you want students to always include a greeting (Dear, Hi, First Name), be sure to always include one yourself.
- Denote important pieces of information, such as assignment due dates or questions that need a response, with clear markers: place such information at the beginning or end of a paragraph rather than burying in the middle; make the text bold; place information in a bullet point.
- When communicating dates, always include the specific date (Thursday, Sept. 13 or Thursday, 9/13) rather than only writing "Thursday," since you may not know when a student is reading the message.
The News feature located on the D2L homepage is a way to share announcements to the entire class. Placing important information, such as due dates and an initial course Welcome Message in the News message, is a great way to ensure students see the announcement as there's nothing else to click on to see the message.
Reasons to communicate through a D2L News Item or Google Classroom Announcement rather than an email include
- If you want the message to be seen multiple times, such as each time a student enters the D2L course until the next announcement is posted
- If you plan to routinely send a similar message, such as a due date or exam reminder or a weekly overview
- If you want to communicate the message with a short video or audio recording rather than written text. For instance, recording a course Welcome video rather than sending a Welcome email can be a way to start building a more personal class community and help give students a face that they're communicating with.
Watch the video below to learn how to create an announcement with the News feature in D2L.
Module Guides are an organization tool within D2L that can aid faculty in deciding how to structure the presentation of information and activities in a lesson and also provide a roadmap for students to follow. Essentially, a Module Guide is a page within a module that states the purpose (learning outcomes) of the course unit or lesson and lists the different learning resources and activities. You can think about a Module Guide as a lesson outline or road map for students to follow. Module Guides can be considered a communication tool as they are a helpful way to articulate the purposes and expectations of lessons and units.
The word "Module" is used since D2L organizes information in the Content section in modules and because D2L offers Module Guide templates for any faculty to use.
D2L offers several Module Guide templates that can be filled out and tailored to your lessons. The various Module Guide templates differ in appearance but include the following areas of information to be included with each course unit.
- Overview of the Unit
- Objectives: What Students will Learn or Be Able to Do Following the Unit
- Outcomes: The Deliverables that Students Will End the Unit With
- Learning Resources: The Content (slides, videos, text, audio) That Students Will Engage With
Faculty interested in using a Module Guide template should reach out to the ECC Distance Learning Office at email@example.com to gain access to the D2L Module Guide templates.
Alternative to using a Module Guide Template, faculty can create their own Module Guides by including a version of the bolded information above with the "Create a File" option in a D2L module. Place that created file as the top item in a module in the Content section of D2L to give students a clear place to start each module.
In addition to the benefits Module Guides provide by communicating expectations and purpose to students, employing a Module Guide that begins with the Objectives and Outcomes encourages faculty to plan units and lessons using Backwards Design, an instructional design strategy that you can learn more about on the Instructional Design page of this site.
Create a Welcome Message
As they say, "First impressions matter." Sharing a Welcome Message prior to the start of the course or in Week 1 to welcome students to the course and discuss expectations can help to begin shaping a positive course community. A Welcome Message could take the form of an email (if longer than one or two paragraphs and if being sent prior to the D2L course opening) or a video or written message posted in News.
Some information to convey in a Welcome Message includes
- Your name, your preferred gender pronouns (he, him, his, she, her, hers, they, them) and how you'd like students to address you (Professor, Dr. Mr. Mrs. First Name, etc.).
- Your enthusiasm for the course: a favorite topic you're looking forward to discussing or a favorite assignment that you're anticipating.
- The best method and times for students to contact you.
- What the first step should be for students once the course begins. Is there a place on D2L that they should navigate to first? A syllabus or other document to start with?
- Contact information for students to receive technical support (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Learn About Your Students' Access to Technology
Within the first week of a course, it is a good idea to learn about your students' access to technology and the internet. Doing so can help you get a sense of what is needed to support your students and how often they'll be accessing course materials . You might solicit this information by asking students to respond to you via email (if doing so, send the email request with students BCCd so that students' responses are not shared with everyone in the class) with questions such as those included below.
The purpose of the questions are to help you to determine how to best support all of the students in your course. Even though students knowingly registered for an online course (as opposed to the Spring 2020 shift to remote teaching), it is not a given that students will be planning to complete work through a computer rather than a cellphone or that they will have internet access on a daily basis.
- Do you have daily access to a computer with internet at home?
- Do you have daily access to a smartphone with internet access?
- What type of device (computer, phone, tablet) do you plan to use for regularly accessing course materials?
- What type of device (computer, phone, tablet) do you plan to use for regularly completing assignments?
- Do you have regular access to a smartphone with internet access and the ability to participate in a video chat?
An example of a survey given to students in the transition to remote learning in Spring 2020 regarding their access to technology can be found here. This survey was used by Susan Timm, Professor II of Digital Technologies II.
Providing clearly written instructions is something faculty already strive for. When teaching remotely, providing written instructions can become even more important. When writing an overview of a module or instructions for an assignment. Suggestions for writing effective instructions include
- State the purpose and objectives near the beginning.
- Explain how and when students will be assessed.
- Set definite expectations for quantity and quality of work to be completed.
- Separate steps with numbers or distinct paragraphs.
- Use transition words like “Next,” “After,” to show the sequencing of work to be done.
- When uploading instructions or assignments as a separate document, consider how accessible the document design and format is for students by consulting the Accessibility and Accommodations page.
- Provide links to support resources.
- Make explicit what students should do if they have questions: contact the instructor? Consult a particular resource?
Additional Advice on Communicating in Online Learning
Communicate Consistently and Communicate Often
To help provide structure in what may still be a new and unfamiliar setting and to help students feel less isolated and uncertain, communicate
- Consistently: Try to use the same tool for communication as much as possible, such as relying primarily on all-class emails, the News feature of D2L, or posting your own regular video updates uploaded to YouTube.
- Often: Provide communications and updates to the class by the same means and at a consistent time, such as at the beginning and end of each week.
Communicate Expectations for Student Participation
- Let students know your communication strategy (where they should look for important course information).
- Regardless of whether or not you are planning to teach asynchronously or to hold a virtual class, let students know when and how often you expect them to access the online platform you’re using. How many times a week should students to be check their email and the LMS? How many hours a week should students plan to spend doing work for the course?
- Let students know how quickly they can expect you to respond to individual communications.
- Communicate any changes in assignment deadlines or delivery methods and make sure that those changes are listed in a central location, such as site homepage, rather than only in a single email.
- Similar to in-residence teaching, create and communicate clear expectations for what is effective participation in activities like online discussions, remote group work, or other activities.
NOTE: As COVID-19 continues, expect that students will continue to have disruptions in their work and family lives that may impact class participation. Be prepared for flexibility to support students who are finding solutions to transportation, technology, illness, childcare and family care, and are still trying to succeed in a course environment that may be brand new to them.
Your Communication Plan
To share your communication strategies for your online course and receive feedback, complete the questions below. Sign-in using the email@example.com email is required. Faculty submitting can expect to receive feedback within 5 days.