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Washington State University

Supporting Student Engagement and Connection in Remote Learning Environments

Learning remotely can feel isolating.  We are hearing from students that they want more connection with faculty and peers in their distance courses.

Learning communities often happen naturally in the physical classroom.  Creating learning communities, connecting with students, and fostering connection between students in online and remote spaces requires more intentionality.

Review Teaching from a Distance: Community Building and Connection or attend one of our live trainings to learn more about building a community in your remote learning courses.

Create a Supportive Climate and Cultivate a Sense of Belonging

  • Model the behavior you want to see in your students. Participate actively in discussions, chat rooms and make yourself available as a resource for group work and other activities.
  • Empathize with students’ everyday domestic needs (e.g. family, pets, meals) and demonstrate humility for being invited into their homes. This is a unique time for all of us. We must set classroom expectations but also show compassion.
  • Be authentic.
    • Share relevant personal anecdotes that reveal excitement about learning within your field.
    • Communicate struggles with difficult concepts you had as a student and how you overcame them.
  • Knowing your audience and their capabilities in the virtual environment will allow you to define expectations for your class and to accommodate to any special circumstances. Survey your students to help identify what your students have access to and any potential issues (or benefits) with running your class virtually.
  • Allow each student to share details about themselves.
  • Proactively communicate with your students by sending announcements or emails throughout the semester.
  • Ask for and use students’ preferred pronouns and names.
  • Encourage participation and invite questions.
  • Provide a means for less outgoing students to ask questions
  • Take advantage of Zoom for Office hours – Students appreciate the opportunity to meet synchronously with faculty and you can help them over any hurdle for approaching you by requiring they attend at least one virtual office hour session. You can schedule a time during which students drop in or allow them to schedule at a time convenient for them (and you). 
  • Communicate clearly where, when and how students can reach out and connect with you.
  • Learn more in these Learning Innovations Weekly Tips: Create a Supportive Climate and Cultivate a Sense of Belonging

Facilitate Peer-to-Peer Connections and Active Learning

Students are missing collaborating with peers. 

WSU Student Survey Fall 2020:

  • Almost 25% of students disagreed with the statement, “The course activities promote interaction between students.”
  • 21% disagree with the statement, “It is easy for me to interact with other students in this course.”

They don’t get to know the colleague in the seat next to them or chat with others in the course before and after class, commiserate about how hard the test is or their grade on an assignment.  Create collaborative activities and assignments for students so that they are working with and getting to know their peers. 

  • Expect students to engage, ask questions, participate in conversation, connect with other students, and communicate this expectation to your students.
  • Ideas for student engagement activities 
  • Ideas for fostering student collaboration
    • Encourage study groups outside of the classroom time.
      • Students have access to ZOOM as well as a multitude of similar platforms available at no cost.
    • Provide opportunities for peer-review and feedback.
    • Create collaborative assignments and group projects.
    • Create engaging conversation and debates using the LMS asynchronous discussion forums between live course sessions.
    • Assignments using VoiceThread can increase social presence and collaboration.

Manage Email Communication

The amount of email is overwhelming. Here are some tips for reducing the email flurry:

  • In the Learning Management System, create a Q&A discussion forum for students to post questions. Doing so allows students to assist in answering questions and makes answering questions scalable. Encourage and reward your students for using the class online discussion board.
  • Employ a Course Concierge – use a TA or student earning 499 credit to manage the front line of student communication. Students will email the concierge, not the instructor, who can then address the easy issues and filter to the instructor on those issues that need your attention.  The Concierge can also manage the online discussion board question forum.
  • Use the online course announcement feature to connect with all students, answer a common question just one time, remind students of due dates, and deliver other pertinent communication.

Resources