It almost (but not quite) goes without saying that faculty-student communication unfolds differently in a remote or hybrid setting. Instructions that might seem crystal clear in person — heads nodding around the room — might be garbled, misheard, or even missed altogether in a Zoom forum. Disruptions to communications can include background noise (the “ping” of incoming text messages, the whine of a lawnmower), discomfort with or failures of technology, and anxiety around remote teaching or learning. If your usual MO is to say something three times in person (i.e.,, on day one, in the syllabus, and a week before an assignment is due), you might need to say it five times online. Also, you might need to say it five different ways. Because clear and frequent communication is a first principle of community building, the previous section offers a number of tips along these lines. Below, we’ve offered a few additional ones that come mostly from our conversations with students and faculty at Colgate.
Rely more on office hours
Offer a range of hours to accommodate different time zones as well as students’ family and work obligations. Schedule separate office hours for students working together in groups. Invite students to submit questions or topics for office hours in advance. Strongly encourage or even require students to check in regularly during Zoom office hours. Consider adding office hours around a particular topic that you announce in advance.
Rely less on email
Set up a single online location to store all of the course logistics (Zoom links for office hours, due dates, assignment instructions, schedules, announcements, etc.). Avoid the confusion that can be created by relying on static documents such as PDFs, or on frequent emails that students don’t always read in a timely manner (or — let’s be honest — at all).
Communicate by video
Consider using video clips for weekly announcements and to provide feedback to students. Research has shown that students who hear (rather than read) an instructor use their name feel as if the instructor really knows them. Check out the Tools section of this site or consult ITS for help with creating a welcome video to go with your course syllabus. Use the video not just to introduce students to the course but to convey your passion for the material.
Students may reach out to you personally to share difficult experiences, or they may raise them in a class discussion. If this happens, try to 1) see the situation through their eyes, 2) withhold judgment, 3) understand their feelings, and 4) convey that understanding.
Lay the groundwork for class discussions
Notify students in advance of what you’re going to cover, even going so far as to send them specific points or questions. Early in the semester, get in the habit of calling on all students, regardless of whether they raise their hand.
If you can, hire a student assistant to help you identify students with questions, students who’ve raised their hands, or students who’ve signaled through body language or facial expression that they might not understand something or might have a question. The assistant can also help troubleshoot technology issues. If hiring an assistant is impractical, you could try assigning the role to students in the class on a rotating basis.
From time to time, ask your students how they’re doing, and also ask them to tell you how you’re doing. You can pose the question out loud or in writing. The important thing is to give students multiple ways to respond — in person during office hours, in a phone conversation, in a private message, or even in an anonymous post or survey response. Listen to what they say. Try not to be defensive. Keep in mind that remote teaching, and the global emergency that led to it, is taxing on all of us. Use “I” statements to describe the changes you’re making (or not) in response to their constructive feedback.
- If you’re not aware of your students’ needs, you can’t be there to meet them, Michelle Pacansky-Brock explains in How to Keep the Human Element in Online Classes, an excellent primer on how to talk so students will listen; how to listen so students will talk.
- Flower Darby’s How to Be a Better Online Teacher guide is full of useful tips for being a better communicator in the virtual classroom.
- Read more here about Theresa Wiseman’s research on the four attributes of empathy.
- As this UC Davis article explains, communication is a big part of achieving and maintaining an online presence.
- Here is some boilerplate language about how to protect privacy and behave like a human being over Zoom. Feel free to add or adapt it for your remote-learning syllabus.