Students say they love their online courses when their instructor is accessible and responsive, when their instructor is hard to reach or unresponsive – not so much.
We recently surveyed our online students regarding distance learning support services. The last question in the survey asked for “any other comments” they wished to offer. About two-thirds of the responses were very positive with students telling us how much they appreciated the online options. Here’s the gist…
“Although the instructor had organized the course well on Blackboard, I could never get a prompt response…”
“My instructor was awesome and was always there if you had any questions.”
“…every course I have taken has been great and the professors have all been attentive and responsive”.
“I really enjoyed my online course with [my] professor… he was responsive to my individual questions and he always replied in a timely compassionate manner.”
“I enjoyed my online courses. The professors were always available for help, though at times I had to wait a day or so for them to email me back.”
“I enjoy my online classes. My psychology class this semester has been great. My economics teacher on the other hand, I feel is very distant and not very helpful when I try and reach out to him.”
Note the theme here – “I loved the online course – my instructor was responsive”.
It would appear that instructor responsiveness and availability is key to student satisfaction in the online learning experience. Some thoughts on how to accomplish this in your online courses…
Students need to know the instructor’s preferred communication style.
Which tools or methods will you employ – email, instant messaging, texts, voice calls, Twitter, Skype, or a combination thereof? Posting this information in the syllabus and course introductory pages can help to manage expectations. Students will know that although you are not available twenty-four-seven, you can still be reached and will be getting back with them in a reasonable amount of time. Tell the students you will respond in a timely manner so they know when to expect a response, and be specific. If your intention is to answer inquiries within 24 hours, state this on the course homepage along with your contact information. I knew a teacher, new to online, who told her students that she would be checking her emails on Thursday evenings. Yeah… as you might imagine, that was not very well received.
Online instructors should not feel the need to respond to every text as it is received, but they do need to establish some sort of routine. If you check your email first thing in the morning or before you go to bed at night, students will begin to expect your responses around these times. If the schedule changes – you’re on vacation, or working on a project that takes you away from your normal rhythm – send out a message or announcement that they might not hear back from you until the next day.
Virtual office hours are useful even when students don’t take advantage of them. They know that Tuesdays and Thursdays they can log into the chat or find you on Skype between 2:30 and 4:00 in the afternoon. I know more than a few faculty who regularly schedule virtual conferences with their students using Google Hangouts or Skype, just to add a more personal connection as they review their students’ writing assignments.
Have the students introduce themselves to the rest of the class at the beginning of the semester. This can be very helpful in creating a sense of community in the virtual classroom environment. You can model this by posting your own introduction to a discussion forum as the first assignment. Using the Blackboard video feature or simply sharing a short video from your phone can help students to see you as a real person so they can put a face along with the name of their professor.
For more ideas about improving communication and interaction, check out the Communications & Interactions Plan found at University of Utah’s Center for Teaching & Learning Excellence: https://utah.instructure.com/courses/148446/pages/communication-and-interaction-plan-strategies