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Never Overlook the Value of Communication When Teaching Online

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I’ve been teaching online at an institution other than Purdue for about 7 years now.  During the Fall 2013 semester, a student commented to me that they really appreciated the amount of communication I had with them during the semester.  Another student mentioned that I was much more engaged compared to his previous online course instructors.

For some reason these comments really haunted me after that term.  Yes, it felt great to get that kind of feedback from students because it was positive.  However, I have since been curious about why these students praised my involvement.  Why is it odd to students that online instructors are engaged in their courses?  If so, shouldn’t that be somewhat alarming?

Engagement is a two-way street.  We can’t expect students to be highly engaged in their classes while as faculty, we appear to either simply observing the class…or at worst, completely unengaged and uncaring about what is going on.

One aspect where student performance can be impacted positively by communication from faculty is through feedback.  Chickering and Gamson (1991), in their Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, list two principles that work hand-in-hand when it comes to communication:  Giving prompt feedback, and communicating high expectations.

If I simply state in my syllabus that I expect strong performance from my students on an assignment, but I provide little to no feedback to students, I am not being effective in providing guidance to high-performing students who may simply need reinforcement that they’re on the right track.  I am also not being effective with lower-performing students by not providing them with the feedback and information they need to improve their work and rise to the expectations I have for the class.  If I don’t tell a student what I expect and clearly communicate to them what they need to do to improve, how can I expect them to do better?

So what’s so important about prompt feedback?   Prompt feedback plus communication about what the student needs to continue doing (or improve upon) can make a difference in the student’s performance.  Not providing prompt feedback can put a student in a position where they don’t know what to improve upon until after the submission of additional assignments or assessments.

There are other components of communication that can be accomplished to keep you engaged with the course.  Consider using Announcements within Blackboard to provide updates and information that can help them, such as tips on how to complete assigned tasks, or emphasizing due dates.  If you do use Announcements, change your course entry page from Course Content to Announcements so those are the first thing a student sees when they log in.  In addition, critical announcements can also be emailed to students.

Furthermore, if you’re teaching online or a blended course where synchronous activity with your students is limited, you may wish to add online office hours using web conference tools provided by Purdue.  This can allow you to host real-time discussions with students wherever you are.

Communicating feedback and expectations is important for student success.  However, simply communicating with your students to let them know that you’re engaged and available can also demonstrate that you care about your students and their involvement in your class.

To discuss ways to increase communication with your students, please contact us at tlt-consulting@purdue.edu.

Brett Creech
Educational Technologist

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1991).  Appendix A: Seven principles for
good practice in undergraduate education.  New Directions for Teaching
and Learning, 47
, 63-69.


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