Fostering More Meaningful Connections with Online Students

Workspace with computer

by Kate Grovergrys

Online students will learn best when they feel a strong connection to their instructor and their classmates. The key is to focus on connection over content and prioritize relationships as a building block to student success. Here are some tips instructors can utilize to foster more meaningful connections with online students.

1. Strive to be approachable online

  • Show your face! Whenever possible incorporate video into your asynchronous online instruction, weekly announcements, grading feedback, etc.
  • Create a communication plan for your course that tells students how best to contact you and when they can expect to hear back.
  • Commit to a quick instructor response time. Set an expectation that you can regularly exceed.
  • Get to know your students and reach out to them when you sense they need extra support.

2. Establish your social presence online.

  • Send a welcome email to your students at the start of the course and consider including a brief introductory video of yourself.
  • Add an instructor profile page to your online classroom site where you share photos and other personal information.
  • Be a storyteller! Share personal anecdotes that help your students get to know you.
  • Show up early for synchronous online class sessions and engage in small talk with your students.

3. Start online class with a personal check-in activity.

  • The check-in activity can take the form of a personal question of the day.
  • The goal is for each student to share an idea with the class.
  • Encourage students to suggest potential check-in questions of the day about topics that interest them.
  • Take notes on what you learn about your students, so you can refer back to that information when you interact 1-on-1 with them.

4. Connect with students 1-on-1 and in small groups.

  • Have students complete a welcome survey at the start of your course, so you can learn more about them.
  • Take 5 minutes each day to send a personalized email to a few of your students. Focus on simply checking in with them, rather than addressing specific questions or concerns.
  • Normalize 1-on-1 meetings with students, so they realize that it doesn’t mean they are doing something wrong.
  • Invite students to visit you during online office hours and provide incentives (i.e. extra credit points or course gamification elements).

5. Facilitate social interaction among your students.

  • Include collaborative learning activities in your lesson plan for synchronous online class.
  • Invite students to show up a few minutes early to synchronous online class sessions to chat informally with their classmates.
  • Encourage students to meet for virtual study group sessions and provide incentives (i.e. extra credit points or course gamification elements).
  • Create an online discussion forum in your online course for “off-topic” conversations.

Looking for more ideas about how to foster a strong connection with your online students? Check out these resources!

  • Gonzalez, J. (Host). (2020, Nov. 23).Connecting Students in a Disconnected World (No. 159) [Audio podcast episode].In Cult of Pedagogy. https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/breakout-rooms-social-interaction/
  • Pacansky-Brock, M. (2020). How to humanize your online class, version 2.0 [Infographic]. https://brocansky.com/humanizing/infographic2
  • Wong, C. (2020 Oct. 14). Building Relationships: How to Connect From a Distance. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/online-student-engagement/building-relationships-how-to-connect-from-a-distance/
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