Seeking to Reach Them (Pt. 2)
I heard somewhere that we should be the person we most needed earlier in life. I think of that at times when teaching. What kind of teacher did I need (and sometimes have) when I was a student? As an online student, one thing I needed and treasured when I had it was personal communication from the instructor. When I could tell instructors genuinely cared about me and my successful learning, those courses were at a whole different level than courses with the instructor largely absent. There’s something about a personal touch, so communicate, communicate, over communicate.
In seeking to reach them, how can you foster the likelihood of both student success and students knowing you care? Well, here are some ideas that you might adopt (if you don’t do them already).
1) If your course does not already have one, add a Chapel Forum and use it regularly. Add prayers for them as you hear of needs and throughout their course in general. Encourage them to check it regularly or subscribe to the forum so they are more likely to see a notification about it. If you come across applicable nuggets in your devotional times or something encouraging for them, the Chapel Forum is one place to share them.
2) Announcements are another versatile tool for you. Post announcements often. Announcements could refer to assignment clarifications, reminders, overall feedback, a nifty applicable item or event from life, etc. You can set announcements to also send emails to all students, set them to release and be viewable at a certain times, etc. And, if you use the same material for future courses, you can reuse announcements that will regularly apply for the course (like evaluation reminders). Announcements are a great way to communicate compassion and care for your students.
3) For those a little more tech savvy you can change your Homepage Banner regularly. Setting a picture, a video, or a message for students to see first thing when entering your course can make a significant impact. Changing the Homage Banner indicates there is a real person with them in the course and can even get students looking forward to logging in to see what awaits them.
4) OKWU advisors are one your greatest (sadly too often unsung) allies. As you notice students not participating (especially easy to notice during grading, but the sooner the better), send the student and OKWU advising an email checking in on the student’s welfare. Even just a quick, “Good afternoon. I noticed you haven’t submitted any posts in DQ 2 this week. Is everything okay? I just want you to know I’m in your corner and will do what I can if you need some guidance, or just a listening ear. I know life happens, so it may only be an oversight. Keep me posted. Just FYI, I let advising know too in case you need their assistance.” Advisors can be a contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The advisors and enrollment staff have invested a vast number of hours into each OKWU student. As we carry the baton stewarding that investment well, they are ready and willing to help us do so.
5) Lastly, response time is critical. This may sound like a high bar, but please try to respond within 6 hours of a student email or text. You do not need to have the answer or information they need, but they do need to hear from you and know they were heard. Even a quick response that you received their message and are looking into it will go a long way. Again, in the virtual environment, personal contact from an instructor communicates compassion and concern like little else. Grading (with beneficial feedback) needs to be done in a timely manner as well –especially considering our accelerated format. But, personal messages should be responded to soon. These are stellar opportunities to reach them and show them you care.
In a virtual world, it’s easy for students to feel all alone and quickly lose hope over the slightest issue. Indeed, troubles seem bigger the less support we think we have. Be that lifeline I know you want to be. Be the lifeline you have needed at times. So many students, especially new ones, are already intimidated about being an online student, intimidated about the “scary professor” who shouldn’t be (or won’t want to be) troubled with their little issue (though it’s really not little for them). Help reach them with who you are. Over communicate. Show them that they are not alone. Show them that you are for them. “Encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone,” (1Thess 5:14).