Effective Communication with Online Students

Blogging the United States Distance Learning Association 2017 National Conference. This session presented by Sharon Clampitt from the Inter American University of Puerto Rico.

Description: We all know that interaction and communication with online students is essential, but is it always as effective as we would like it to be? This interactive presentation explores the key elements of a successful communication with students, and our students with instructors. It gives practical tips for effective communication both from and to students.

Effective Communication

Types of communication:

  • Professor -> Student
  • Student -> Professor
  • Student -> Student
  • Student -> Support Personnel
  • Support Personnel -> Student

Even the students may need some training and assistance on communicating effectively with students – thinking of some of our dual enrollment students who really need help with this!

What are some of the reasons faculty talk to students…. Need to ask them if they are ok and finding everything they need. Often they won’t say anything until they are asked! Transmitting and summarizing information of course, but also following-up to remind them about assignments etc. Clarifying misconceptions – before the issue becomes viral on a discussion forum or before an exam. Individual feedback in communications – they need to know why they got the grade they got. If you don’t tell them what they missed, they misunderstand, they start changing what they already do understand.  The students who are successful also need a pat on the back and encouragement. Students need motivation communications. One of the most demotivating things in distance education is lack of faculty communication.

Why are students communicating with faculty? To ask for information. To ask if they can hand something in late; to give them a break. They follow-up on requests – things they need from us. Clarifying questions they have; to give the faculty feedback.

Effective communication can create a rapport and desire to communicate more; however if it’s done poorly, the door can shut and you might not hear from the student again.

Three Key Takeaways

  • Timely. Sufficient time for the person to take appropriate action. There needs to be time to remediate. Respond to questions as soon as they are asked. Clarify before misconceptions become an epidemic.
  • Meaningful. Provides the information they need; attends to academic, psychological, social needs as well, the recognizes the people involved. Use their name in the email. Encourage. Help them calm down. Thinking also of the idea of acknowledging how the feel or what they said or experienced. “as so and so said in their post, ….” “it seems you’ve read the material carefully…”
  • Actionable. The person needs to know what to do next. Start with something positive. I can tell that you’ve put a lot of work into this. Make it clear what to do next. Please make an appointment with me. Thinking of the positive helpdesk email reading I’ve been doing lately. Connecting on a human level first; and making sure that you assist with the actual thing the students need.

We need to teach students to do this as well.

  • Timely. They should ask for help before the assignment expires. Not at the end of the class where they haven’t done anything yet.
  • Meaningful. It should be very clear what the actual problem is.
  • Actionable. They should be clear on what type of solution they are hoping for.

What are some ways we could help students communicate more effectively with us.

Sample email from a student.

Hello professor.

This is the first time I have taken an online course and I don’t know what to do. I tried to do the first assignment, but I didn’t understand anything. I haven’t bought the textbook, well, because I don’t know what to do. I tried to do the first assignment, but I didn’t understand anything. I haven’t bought the textbook, well, because I don’t know which one it is. Can you help me?


Gunter Lunch.

First, though, check that the information they need is actually available and not hidden!

Writing a response in groups:

Dear Gunter,

I’m so glad you decided to take the leap and take this class as your first online class! Welcome! Online courses can be tricky for getting started, so here’s some tips to help you get started.

Here’s the direct link to buy the textbook. Please acquire it as soon as possible. If you have trouble, call 123-barnes&noble.

Then, for getting started, did you find the orientation in the top how to section of the course? This will help you learn how navigate and get yourself organized to learn online.

On the first assignment, after you get textbook, read chapter 1, and watch the little intro video, and review my notes on what the expectations are for the assignment. Then, if you are still stuck, give me a time between 3-5 pm on Thursday, and I’ll send you a link to videoconference so we can talk it over. This assignment is due next Sunday, so start soon!

Are you checking your University email? I sent a welcome email with instructions to get started. Did you receive it? Let’s make sure you’re getting my communications.

This should get you started! Again, so glad to have you in class! Call 123-my-office if you want to talk further.

Professor Schedule-a-Meeting

Comments and discussion on this exercise:

  • Sometimes these questions can help you consider your course. Maybe they shouldn’t see the content until they have done the orientation.
  • Sometimes you can look at the stats to see where the student has been looking; and that information can help you figure out a more appropriate response to the student.

Tools to Hide Your Cell Phone

These are the tools shared at the end to text students but not give them your cell phone number.

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