3 Easy Steps to Connect with Online Students

Sustaining high-quality student participation usually does not happen on its own unless I, as an on-line instructor, push it forward. As an adjunct instructor for Oklahoma Wesleyan University I quickly recognized the diversity of student educational interest, their varied academic backgrounds, and the maturation difference between older and younger students. Thus it became necessary to model participation, create challenging assignments to encourage deeper thought, and foster an environment to quickly blend the class into a cohesive unit.

To these students I was an outsider invading their territory and I had to quickly develop methods to acclimate with them from the first class interaction. It goes without saying some students would quickly gravitate toward an on-line professional relationship while others were not ‘on-line learners’ …but true ‘distance learners’ keeping their distance and struggling to contribute. The success of any on-line class is dependent upon being able to connect early in the relationship and find common ground. The following are three unique steps I take to connect with my on-line students:

Strategic Word of the Day: Each class day I would upload a simple two slide (power-point) presentation with voice overlay containing a strategic word I wanted them to concentrate on that day. The strategic word might range from differentiation to success, blinders to forgiveness, commitment to discipline. But each message has a purpose while rewarding the student extra points for viewing the short one minute presentation. One student stated she looked forward to hearing the SWOTD each morning because she discovered a word of encouragement that met her need that day. Who would have thought a simple one minute two slide voice over presentation would strengthen her day?

Personal E-Mails: Every student needs a special touch during our on-line class session. I learned a long time ago when we work with other people there will always be something we do not know. We do not realize what the person went through the night before, what illness has invaded their family, or whose marriage is being torn apart by drugs, alcohol, or divorce. Everyone has a story. It is our job to reach out and uniquely touch the student several times during the class duration to encourage, support, and show appreciation for their efforts. A kind word, being nonjudgmental, may make the difference if a student remains in school or drops out of the program. Let us be facilitators of good will and encouragement.

Personal Telephone Calls: In every college class I ever taught, whether on-line or in person, a student incurred a medical, social, or family problem. Occasionally I will make an unexpected telephone call to personally check on the student, provide answers to their questions, and intently listen to their questions. Often an anticipated 20 minute telephone call will last over an hour. It is in these moments of personal interaction I can provide encouragement and support to a student attempting to balance church, family, work, and school. These are anointed moments to show empathy and strength. It is a time to pray one-on-one with a student who needs to hear the voice of reason as we live out our faith before them. I have never encountered a school related problem in which an extended deadline, pre-submission review of an essay, or the bouncing back and forth of ideas did not resolve. These are the moments I do my best work by being a reflection of hope and strength to a student attempting to better themselves and their future.

A long time ago I heard this statement, “They do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

This is what Jesus would do. Let us do likewise.

Michael B. Russell, MA, MBA, DSL

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