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How to Connect Better with Your Online Students

via Digital Partner

As an online teacher, you may have noticed what seems like a steady increase in the number of students taking your classes and wondered if it's just a local phenomenon or something broader. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it's the latter. The number of students taking online courses has definitely been increasing in recent years. The Post-Gazette cited a study by the Babson Survey Research Group, which showed almost a third of the students enrolled in colleges and universities that grant degrees were taking one or more of their classes online.

While there is a lot to enjoy about online education from both the teacher and student perspective -- including flexibility and the lack of a commute -- you've probably noticed a number of drawbacks associated with distance learning, especially when it comes to communication. For example, written communication, especially jokes and sarcasm, can be easily misinterpreted.

It can also be easy to miss an email from a student in need of assistance with a project or asking for clarification on an assignment. In addition, some individuals miss the relationship and interaction that can form between teachers and students in a traditional classroom. Whether you are a new distance learning teacher or one who has maybe slipped into some bad habits, it is important to make sure your communication skills are where they should be so your students can benefit from your classes.

Check and Respond to Emails on a Regular Basis

Because your students could be doing classwork at just about any time of the day or night, you can't guarantee that you'll be able to answer their queries immediately. However, getting a response as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours, is something very important to most students, Faculty Focus reports. Students who have questions on projects or assignments will feel frustrated and abandoned if you wait too long to provide them with the help they are seeking.

Provide Resources

For those times you aren't available to answer a student's questions, make sure you provide a list of online resources they can access, so they can attempt to help themselves until you are back online. The more you give students to work with, the more empowered they'll feel as they take your classes.

Provide an Online Chat Time Weekly

In real life, questions are often compound and may be difficult to express in an email. That is one reason why it is so important to offer at least one online chat time a week for your students. The Chronicle of Higher Education says online chats can also be an excellent time for general class discussions, where your students can "speak" with you, as well as exchange ideas and engage one another, much as they would in a traditional classroom.

Send Personal Communications

Because it can be difficult to establish a personal relationship with students you may never actually meet in real life, it is a good idea to send a nice note or even something personalized to your students. For example, over the holidays, sending a Christmas card with your picture on it to the individuals taking your class can be very sweet. A small gesture like this is welcoming, especially for students who may be taking your online course out of necessity -- for medical reasons, for example -- rather than for convenience.


Edmodo is a secure social networking website used by teachers to connect with students. It is sometimes referred to as the Facebook for schools. Edmodo is an excellent platform for sharing homework, participating in discussions, and for turning in homework. Teachers can also use Edmodo to post links and other useful resources for assignments, as News Sun suggests.

What ways do you stay connected with your online students? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

About the Author—Barry Schick

Barry shares his experience as a teacher and principal with various education websites and blogs.Critical Thinking Companion