In my last post, I suggested that instructors establish immediacy with students by making adjustments to the way they respond to student emails. But once they have access to your iCollege course, there are many communication techniques that can effectively provide students information they want and need, and these techniques can also create immediacy with your students while minimizing the amount of time you spend answering emails.
Great! What are the ideas?
First, it is a good idea to send an email to students prior to the start of class that provides them a copy of the syllabus and instructions for accessing the course and the course welcome announcement. Written in a personal and warm way, this communication helps students get off to a good start in your class and it tells them that you are thinking about their success before they have even started class.
Once they arrive in the iCollege classroom, consider asking your students to use a dedicated discussion forum to ask questions about the class. I call this discussion “Ask Steve.” Many instructors name it “Ask the Professor.” Whatever title you choose, this should be a place where students can ask questions in front of the class. I check this discussion page for my classes at least 3 times per week and respond to student questions and comments. The beauty of this approach is that students can be instructed to check this forum before they email you, and students can respond to classmate questions.
iCollege also makes it easy to set up a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page for students to reference. You probably already know many of the questions that students will ask in the class, and you can preemptively answer these questions on this page. This is a great technique because you can build this list of questions before the class starts, and whenever you find a new question that belongs in the list. You can save yourself a lot of time if you make it a habit to keep the FAQ for the class up-to-date.
In addition, I recommend that you create helpful and warm Announcements for students in iCollege. These can be published immediately or they can be scheduled to release to students at a later time in the semester. Regularly scheduled announcements have a variety of uses: to remind students of upcoming assignments; to congratulate the class when they do something well or encourage them when they do not do well; to supplement or update course information. You can also use announcements to reinforce your course narrative; they function as internal reviews and previews that allow you to connect each week to the next in a meaningful way.
OK, but what if students email me anyway?
Yes, despite your best efforts, students will still send you emails about information you have already provided in welcome emails, Q&A and FAQ pages, and announcements. There are two ways you can respond to these emails: answer the question directly or point the student in the direction of the right answer.
The quickest approach is to respond with the correct answer or the location of the correct answer. This gives the information the student needs and usually ends that line of communication. The benefit of redirecting students is that it invites the student to take a more active role in their learning, by exploring the resources you have provided in iCollege. But keep in mind that when you decide to redirect the student in this way, you might be making more work for yourself because this approach does not end that line of communication.
Here are some examples of redirecting the student to find information about the course on their own (if it exists). Remember: you can make an impression on the student if you write in a friendly and supportive manner.
Tell the student that that question has already been answered.
Thanks for the question! Check out the Ask Steve discussion: we talked about this aspect of the Speech Video Assignment in detail there. Let me know if you have more questions!
This is a great question! I believe it’s answered in the FAQs, in the Speech Video Assignment category. Let me know if you have more questions!
It’s clear that these messages ask the student to be more active in the use of course resources, but they don’t necessarily end that instance of communication: I have found that some students, after looking at the Ask Steve discussion, for example, email me with a question about that discussion instead of asking their question in that discussion, where it belongs.
Remind the student that they should tell you what they have already done to try to answer the question for themselves.
Thank you for reaching out to me! Before I try to answer the question, would you tell me where in the class you already looked for the answer? As soon as I hear back from you, we can pursue this further.
This approach may make more work for you: when you respond by asking the student a question, you are keeping the line of communication open, i.e. you have invited an email response, and when the student responds, you have another email to write. That said, you eliminate a lot of future emails when students learn to find answers for themselves.
Remind the student to use the Ask the Professor discussion to ask their questions.
Great question! Would you please ask it in the Ask the Professor discussion? Some of your classmates are probably wondering the same thing, so that would help a lot!
This approach may make more work for you: when you request that the student ask the question in the iCollege classroom, you may have to answer the question later, in another location, but it does close this line of communication.
For more ideas and assistance in terms of constructive communication in online classes, connect with the Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning, and Online Education.