No matter how you have chosen to deliver your courses, ongoing two-way communication is vital to a productive relationship with your students and necessary for them to succeed in your course.
- Be sure you have complete and accurate information in the Blackboard Contact Instructor section and on your syllabus. Include how you prefer to be contacted and when. The most common method is official UA Google Email.
- Direct your students to update their contact information (phone/email) in UAOnline. Consider collecting students’ alternative email addresses and/or cell phone numbers.
- Establish a schedule for regular communication. Pick a day and send a message the same day each week. Try not to overload students with too many messages. Instead, send one weekly summary or checklist to students. Messages should be brief, clear, complete and employ a professional, but friendly/approachable tone.
- Design a back-up plan. Plan ahead in case something prevents you from being able to respond to students in a timely manner.
- Always keep accessibility in mind when building your course and choosing technology tools.
- Communicate clearly and simply.
- Refer students to the Student Help page linked in every Blackboard course for UAA policies and student support resources (more than just technology help).
Communication Technology Tools
Establish a schedule for regular communication with students using one of the tools UAA provides. UAA core tools are supported by the UAA IT Technical Support Center so you and your students can easily get help. Also consider what tools you already use and what tools are most appropriate for your students and your field.
Although you can choose from many tools for communicating with students, select only a few to implement. Student panels generally ask faculty to stick with the same tools they use in other courses and not overwhelm them with “extra” tools that the UAA Technical Support Center doesn’t help students troubleshoot. Use the information below and the Communications sheet on AI&e's Tools Comparison chart to decide which tools best fit your needs.
Humanize yourself to students and be present in your course. Let your personality show in the way you design your course in Blackboard.
- To send a message to all students, use Blackboard or UAOnline.
- In Blackboard Announcements, you can check the box to send a copy of an announcement to all students via email. This allows faculty to simultaneously post an announcement in Blackboard and send an email to students.
- A Blackboard FAQ or “Ask” Discussion board shows your interest in helping students get answers; encouraging peer responses helps build community.
- Craft text for announcements and activities using a professional yet conversational tone. Post announcements highlighting connections between course content, activities, and assignments.
- Use a shared space, such as a Blackboard discussion board, for Q&A and/or FAQ. Encourage students to answer each other’s questions.
- Provide detailed feedback on student work. Providing feedback to students via audio and video is an option. Blackboard audio and video feedback allows faculty to “speak” feedback to students directly in the Blackboard grade center. Some faculty record screencasts of themselves reviewing student work while providing audio feedback.
Respond to all questions in email and Blackboard daily. UA Google Email is recommended for both faculty and students rather than personal email accounts
Ask for student feedback on the course and reach out to struggling students. A Qualtrics survey or Google Form both work well for collecting information from students (e.g., alternative contact information or feedback on how things are going). Consider if you want to make your survey anonymous or not. The Blackboard Survey tool is always anonymous, so use a zero-points Test or Assignment if you want to track students’ responses.
Many faculty use a non-anonymous survey in the first few weeks of class to check whether students can access everything in the course, understand the instructions, are completing activities in a reasonable amount of time, etc. You can use this to direct students to resources before they fall too behind.
- Video and Audio
Video and Audio
Consider using audio or video tools to allow students to hear your voice and see you as a real person. Short video recordings or screencasts with captions help students get vital information about the course and get to know you at the same time. Information about tools that you can use to create, caption, and share videos is available on our Creating Videos page.
Some faculty find recording audio to be a comfortable fit (think podcasts). Most computers and phones include a voice recorder app (in Windows, Voice Recorder; in iOS, Voice Memo) which makes it easy to record anytime anywhere. These could be used with Google Docs speech-to-text to generate the audio file and transcript at the same time.
Although UAA doesn’t offer training and support for this tool, some faculty use Audacity, a free, open-source audio recorder and editor. Faculty can upload audio files (typically *.MP3 files) to Kaltura Media for machine captioning and direct publishing in Blackboard.
- Web Conferencing
Be available to students via office hours. Consider scheduling synchronous sessions for real-time online discussion. Meetings can be held in Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams. Compare UAA web conferencing tools to find the best fit for you and your students. Specify required meeting dates and times in the class schedule prior to student enrollment.
Zoom and Collaborate Ultra are built into Blackboard. Microsoft Teams facilitates communication via text chat, voice and video calls/meetings, file exchange, and more (updated Skype).
- How to Be a Better Online Teacher (2020) Flower Darby, Chronicle of Higher Education
- Creating a Sense of Instructor Presence in the Classroom (2014) Rob Kelly, Faculty Focus
- Creating an Effective Online Instructor Presence (2013) Teacher’s College, Columbia
- Staying in Touch with Students Resource Guide (2020) AI&E/CAFE
- Getting and Staying in Touch with Students (2020) AI&E/CAFE webinar (video, 13:58)
- How Important Is Instructor Presence in an Online Course? (2014) Irma Sandercock, ASU
- Student Communication Shouldn’t be One-Size-Fits-All (2020) Cathy Sandeen
Faculty Development & Instructional Support
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