An important part of building community is to develop shared expectations around the type, tone, and frequency of communication between people in the community.
Thus, when designing a flex-hybrid course, you should make sure that everyone understands what communication channels you will use and how, and how often, you will use them.
There are two important considerations for communication in your flex-hybrid courses:
- Your course must include some synchronous communication with students.
- You need to streamline communication so that it’s not overwhelming for students. As stated in the Fall 2020 course standards, full-class communication should use Canvas’s Announcements tool to ensure a durable record of all messages.
The Fall 2020 course standards require both synchronous and “interactive asynchronous” components in all college courses. This is essential because the difference between “flex-hybrid” and “online” courses – fully online courses often have only asynchronous interactions.
There are lots of great tech tools for working synchronously with students. Click on the links to learn more:
- Google Meet (both video/audio and chat)
- Shared Google Doc to which you all contribute
It is essential to meet the expectation for synchronous communication, not least for accreditation reasons. However, you are not required to (nor do we recommend that you) hold your entire class time by videoconference. A mixture of synchronous and asynchronous learning activities is the ideal structure for your contact time, as discussed in the course standards.
As you may have noticed, online communication can easily end up feeling like a “firehose” of information. Thus, it’s important to streamline communication by limiting the channels of communication you use with your students. These channels should be clearly explained to students in the syllabus and on the first day of class.
The Fall 2020 course standards contain several guidelines for streamlining communication:
- The times and locations of class sessions and other appointments (like office hours) should be shared with students using Google Calendar. You can use Google Calendar to set up a Google Meet for video meetings. Here’s how to use Google Calendar.
- Use the Canvas Inbox and Announcements for communicating with students about coursework. Inbox is the best way to communicate with one or a few of your students, and Announcements is the best way to reach the whole class. Save Gmail for communication with colleagues.
- Assign due dates for each assignment in Canvas so that all the assignments for your course pop up in students’ “to do” lists in Canvas. This is what many students use to organize their study time. Here are written instructions for how to add a due date to an assignment and here is a helpful video that shows you how.
- Use Modules as the primary way to organize assignments, listing them by units of study or weeks. If all instructors do this, it will enable students to focus their attention on course content rather than on figuring out each instructor’s idiosyncratic Canvas setup.
Why does all this matter in creating community? The easier it is for students to manage the logistics of your course, the more likely they are to be able to be full participants in it. Students who feel uncertain or ill-prepared tend to hang back in group work and class discussions, while students who are prepared are more confident in their interactions with others.
Making sure that everyone is able to participate on an even footing is also an important way to promote inclusiveness, which is an essential ingredient in a successful classroom community. Please see our information on technological equity, accessibility, and diversity, equity, and inclusion here.