Maintaining contact with students during times of instructional disruption allows you to encourage online engagement, make expectations clear, respond to student questions and concerns, and minimize confusion. Strategies range from using Canvas for announcements to holding virtual office hours and online student group meetings.
Communicate with students early, often, and intentionally.
Students will look to you to set the tone and methods of appropriate communication during this shift to remote learning. Students used to face-to-face learning and interacting with peers and professors regularly may feel isolated or confused. As a general guideline, remember to
- Communicate early and often: Let students know about changes or disruptions as early as possible, even if all the details aren't in place yet, and let them know when they can expect more specific information. Don't swamp them with email, but consider matching the frequency of your messages with that of changes in class activities and/or updates to the broader crisis at hand (for example, the campus closure is extended for two more days; what will students need to know related to your course?).
- Set expectations: Let students know how you plan to communicate with them, and how often. Tell students both how often you expect them to check their email, and how quickly they can expect your response. Let them know, too, if you are using the Canvas Inbox tool, since they may need to update their notification preferences (details in the next section).
- Manage your communications load: You will likely receive some individual requests for information that could be useful to all your students, so consider keeping track of frequently asked questions and sending those replies out to everyone. This way, students know they might get a group reply in a day versus a personal reply within an hour. Also, consider creating an information page in Canvas, and then encourage students to check there first for answers before emailing you. (Borrowed from Indiana University Keep Teaching site.)
Communicate Using Canvas
Using Canvas while remote teaching is crucial since it will be students' hub for everything class-related. You can contact students regularly through Canvas using the Announcements feature, Discussion Board, and Inbox email features.
Hold Virtual Office Hours
Being available to students through defined virtual office hours allows students to communicate directly with you about coursework and challenges associated with remote instruction. You can hold virtual office hours through Blue Jeans and WebEx. When planning virtual office hours, consider two options:
- open hours when students can access a Blue Jeans or WebEX "room" where you and other students are conversing, allowing students to drop in and out as they like
- having students submit questions and concerns via email or poll before the office hour so that the time can be spent answering those questions directly.
The first option has the benefit of direct contact with your students in the moment, but if students are dropping in and out the same questions may come up regularly. The second option allows for more information to be shared in a short amount of time, but has less interaction during the office hour time. Each of these methods can be recorded in Blue Jeans and WebEx, so that students unable to attend will have access to the recordings.
Once you have decided how to organize your virtual office hours, choose an platform, schedule times you will be online, and let you students know how to reach you.