Operation Communication: A Checklist for Online Faculty

Operation Communication: A Checklist for Online Faculty
Sherri Singer, Department Head for Social and Behavioral Sciences, Alamance Community College

Online instructors often struggle with establishing and maintaining effective communication with their students over the course of the semester. We have to work hard to establish both a public and a private system for communicating with our students. Both types of communication are necessary to keep courses running smoothly, and to better serve the needs of our students. However, as we evaluate our courses, each of us will undoubtedly find something we missed: a message, an announcement, or a status check that we should have posted. One easy way to remain consistent each semester is to establish a calendar checklist of both public and private communication reminders.

Public Communication

Public communication channels are widely available in most learning management systems. These systems make it easy for instructors to establish their presence in the course and communicate with students. This communication is sent to everyone in a mass email or messaging system. As the semester progresses, it is helpful to schedule specific times throughout the course to post pertinent announcements for students. For example, an announcement checklist can include:

  • Welcome Announcements: At the beginning of each semester, send a brief announcement welcoming students to your course and establishing when and how you will communicate with Make sure this announcement is posted after your course is active, so the system can automatically email all of your students.
  • Weekly Reminders: Online faculty often say, “If students would just read the syllabus . . .” or “Due dates are in the course calendar.” While those statements are true, the reality is that instructors provide reminders for students in face-to-face classrooms without a second thought; it is almost second nature, and reminding our online students is equally important.
  • Forum or Work Responses: Establish a pattern of announcements that address the work students complete during each week or course unit. Part of communicating with students includes establishing your presence in the course—letting students know you are there and that you see they are working. You may also want to have established announcements that highlight major assignments as they become due.
  • Status Checks: Instructors often assume that students are sitting by their computers refreshing their computer screens to view their grades. Some are. However, many students need a push to check their grades. Make it a point, at least twice during the semester, to send out a grades posted announcement. Or, at the midterm, send a grade check announcement. Reminding students to check their grades can save heartaches and surprises at the end of the semester.
  • Final Send-Off: One of the most important things online teachers often forget to do is have a final send-off. Just as it is important to welcome students, we need to close our course and establish an ending.
  • Bonus Tip: Use part of your online course as a message The main page of your learning management system platform is often a whiteboard that can be used as teachable space. You can post announcements, due dates, content highlights, cartoons, or other attention-grabbers to highlight current content.

Private Communication

Establishing private communication channels is equally important in online courses. It is our method of discussing grading, conduct, and personal information. Social media has changed the way students communicate with one another and many do not understand the need for privacy. Students may need permission to use a private channel. As online instructors we need to train our students to communicate effectively and to use appropriate channels of communication. The following suggestions can help establish and maintain a private channel of communication:

  • Post a detailed profile of yourself. This profile can include your message response time and a grading timetable. Be upfront with your students about when you are and are not available. Encourage students to design their own profile with similar information or with a few points they would like all of their instructors to know.
  • Create a first-week email assignment. Each semester, ask students to email you their contact information from their campus email account. Having students use their official campus email addresses ensures that you are communicating with the correct person and often connects with your LMS messaging systems, helping you keep documentation on students. But, just as important, it sends a powerful message to students when you can reply back, “Welcome to the course! You just earned your first 100!” While that grade may only be worth a miniscule amount in the grade scheme of the course, it sets a successful tone for the semester.
  • Establish a routine of checking in personally with students. As you progress through the semester, establish a timeline for connecting individually with students. For example, during the third week of the semester, contact students who are not completing assignments or who have low grades; in week four, contact students who are earning good grade just to check in and let them know you are paying attention to the quality work they are producing. During week eight, contact all students with a midterm grade or only those students who are earning a grade below a “C.”

Communicating with online students can be cumbersome, especially when courses are asynchronous. By establishing a pattern of public and private communication channels and semester benchmarks that are also tied to your course calendar, you can easily maintain communication with your students.