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Weekly Tip: Connecting from a Distance

When teaching a course from a distance, cultivating a sense of connection can seem difficult. Our tip this week supplies a few simple strategies for building student-to-student, and student-to-instructor connections. You might ask:

  • How do I accommodate students learning in different time zones?
  • How do I ensure students are on the same page?
  • How can I foster engaging conversation?
  • How do I know my students are checked in during lecture?

Strategies for Building Student Connections

In addition to our previous post on engaging discussions, here are some ideas on building connections in your course space:

Discussion Forums

Discussion forums can be used as a main venue for conversation or as a supplement to lecture. Implementing discussion forums gives students the opportunity to take a step back and process information before responding to a prompt rather than doing so on the fly.

Q & A Forums

Q & A forums are an extension of discussion forums.  In this type of space, students can pose questions, and the instructor, or other students, can provide the answer. This is a great, low-stakes way to connect, especially when students get involved. Using a Q & A forum can also reduce the number of emails an instructor receives as course-related questions are answered in a single area for all students benefit from.


Announcements are a simple way to communicate updates and reminders, and to ensure your students on the same page.


Conferences are another way to check in with students and can be held in lieu of, or in addition to, regular class sessions. Holding brief one-on-one or small group conferences early in the semester can set the tone and encourage students to visit office hours in the future. If your course has a large enrollment, small group conferences can work in place of individual conferences.

Ensuring Students are Checked in

Teaching from a distance can raise questions of whether students are checked in. One helpful question to consider is what does it mean to be “checked-in” or “engaged” with a course?

  • Set engagement expectations. Clear expectations are vital for ensuring your students are indeed checked in. Define and model what you expect in terms of interaction between instructor and student, student and content, and student and student.
  • Implement group work regularly. Group work makes students accountable to their peers and is a productive way to ensure students remain involved and engaged with course content.
  • Give consistent and frequent feedback. Giving consistent feedback can encourage students to contact you on their own in the future. Being the first to reach out to an instructor, especially online, can be intimidating for students. Providing regular feedback gives you an opportunity to check in with your students; and to address any issues your students may be facing. This can also pose an opportunity to present students with resources that can help them connect better with your course and overcome any obstacles they may be facing.

This series of videos and teaching tips is presented by Academic Outreach and Innovation (AOI). We invite you to join the conversation. Share your tips and ask questions through this blog. If you would like these posts to be sent directly to your email each week, subscribe to the listserv by emailing

For more information or to schedule time with an instructional designer or emerging technologist, contact or request training on demand. You can also visit the Spark Faculty Innovation Studio in room 102 any time from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday, during the academic year.