Thursday, March 18, 2010

Establishing Rapport with Online Students is Essential

Even though my schedule is crazed, I'm really excited about teaching this semester. I just started three new sections (two 8-week English composition courses online and one 8-week academic writing class online).

Establishing rapport with my students is my number one priority this week. It's difficult enough to take a writing class, but to do so online presents even more challenges. Many students do not feel confident about their writing, so to send it to some virtual grade book can be intimidating.

It is important to establish an online dialog with students the very first week. I do this in many ways using several venues. First of all, I start the class with a welcome email. If I can, I send it a week in advance to get students thinking about the course. Then when the course begins, I resend it to establish an official connection. I also recorded an introductory podcast, so students hear my voice and get to see me as a person. I build on this with a fun insightful instructor page, where I introduce myself and my "teaching assistants."

It is essential that during the first week of an online class, the instructor email the students 3-4 times to encourage their participation. By the first day of class, they've already heard from me twice: once inviting them for a sneak peak at the course and again the first day of the course.

The day of the first deadline (or night before), I send a reminder email to motivate students to get on Blackboard and complete their assignments. I also make grading a priority and virtually stalk the grade book so that I can review the first assignment and give feedback. While it's not essential to give feedback on all the exercises, it's important to establish a connection within those first assignments.

In my Comp 1 classes, for example, students are asked to discuss several areas of their writing. When I review their responses, I look for something to grasp onto, whether it's a way to compliment them or a way to alleviate their fears or stress. The next thing I do is review their class homepage, which is one of their first assignments for the term. Again, I search for a connection and make comments as I find them. The goal is for every student to receive feedback from me during that first week.

Another thing I do is start a discussion board right away. This semester, I am taking a graduate-level class about preparing students to write in the workplace. One of my assignments was to write an advance organizer, which consists of ten T/F questions related to the course content, ten Interesting/Boring questions as a means to touch base with each students personal interest levels, and ten Agree/Disagree questions to tap into their expectations for the course. I posted an "extra credit" (yes, I lured them with the academic equivalent to candy) discussion board to talk about the survey. Then I cyber-stalked the discussion boards looking for reasons to respond and encourage participants.

I am now at the end of my first week of eight and my final email of the week is to those who have not yet logged in to Blackboard, gently reminding them of the importance of timely participation.

I think I've don just about all I've can to engage students this week and am looking forward to seeing how my efforts pay off throughout the semester.

I'll let you know how it goes.

1 comment:

VirtualProf said...

Great ideas!! I have an introduction discussion the first week that is mandatory. I also require at least three days participation in that and all discussions. So student have to "come to me" so to speak. I do send class emails, make lots of announcements (those are emailed to all students by default) and cruise the discussion forum off and on all day long the first week. Only my graduate classes have writing assignments the first week (plus an introduction and one content discussion). I see everyone several times a week in the discussions. I get writing assignments back to them the following day -- in all my classes -- so grading jail hits quite often on Mondays :-)

Good posting!