Sometimes I try to imagine my online students, sitting at a Starbucks or at home, typing away and trying to engage with a community of learners who are not near to them. It’s not too hard to imagine because I have been a student in online classes, and I have felt that isolation. Even when I did feel a little connection, it was hard to image the other people in class, instructor included, as anything other than words on a page.
One technique that did help a little bit was when my instructors would use my name in their writings to me–either in discussions or comments in assignment feedback–such a small effort on the instructor’s part, but it can make students feel like they are individuals and a part of the learning environment. As an instructor, I consciously remind myself to use my students names as often as I can.
A second strategy I try to employ is sending out individual messages to students when I could just send a whole-class email. For example, there is an end of the semester project coming up in one of my classes where students will select a book to read. I’ve announced it already and given suggestions. But then I wrote an individual email to each student asking if they had thought about it, and to reach out to me if I could help them in any way. The core of the message was the same, but for each student I added bits of individualization, based on what I know about that student. This took about twenty minutes longer than the easier way of reaching out to students, but I know that the effort it took will help students feel more connected and engaged with the course.
What strategies are you using to create connection and encourage engagement? Share a strategy in the comments.