This page collects resources about communicating with your students smoothly and clearly. One of your first priorities as you shift to remote instruction should be ensuring that you and your students are on the same page about how your course will be conducted moving forward. Here you’ll find technological suggestions and a checklist of things you should plan to communicate with your students.
While you should not resume teaching before the end of the extended spring break on March 23, you should plan to communicate with your students about your expectations before then.
NEW!! We now have a guide to writing your “first contact” email (the email in which you check in with students and explain the basic framework of the class for the next several weeks. It includes a sample that you can customize as needed.
What You and Your Students Need to Talk about
Clear, prompt communication between instructor and students is perhaps the most important thing for successful remote learning. This is especially important during the transition. At the moment, you may be receiving a chaotic flood of emails from students, or expecting to receive many questions starting the day spring break was originally supposed to end. Taking some time to think about what you need from your students, the official message you want them to hear from you, and your ongoing communication needs before getting bogged down in answering emails will smooth the transition.
If you would like to see a model email to students that sets a reassuring tone and makes general expectations very clear, check out this example from Dr. Kimberly Quinn.
Things to Ask Your Students
It’s important to assess what your students need to be successful in remote learning. This does not need to be complicated, but you do need to find out things like what technology students have available to them, whether they have their textbooks in their present location, whether there are major time-zone differences that would interfere with live class meetings, and the like. Some will email you about their needs, but some may not, or may wait until they are already having trouble keeping up. Surveying students using a Google Form at the beginning of the transition is a straightforward way to get and analyze this information. Dr. Elaine Young (SSB) has given us permission to share a set of questions she is using in her class survey here.
Things to Communicate to Your Students
This is a basic list of things students will need to know from you at the outset of remote learning. Depending on the nature of the class, you may have additional things to communicate to them.
- How should students communicate with you, and what response time should they expect?
- Instruct students about your preferred communication method and a backup method.
- Set a response time you think is reasonable for your students’ needs and your time commitments. Most remote instructors say something like, “you can expect a response within 24 hours on business days (Monday-Friday).”
- Notify students about how you will send all-class announcements.
- In what format(s) will class be conducted?
- Will your class be conducted primarily in Canvas discussion forums? Via live videoconferences? Through assignments?
- Where in Canvas should they look to find what they need?
- What technology or other resources will they need to keep up with the course?
- Give students a heads-up about equipment, software, and level of internet connectivity you expect them to have. Aim for no-cost tools. Keep in mind that some students may have internet limitations (speed restrictions, data caps) they cannot change. Be prepared with alternatives (for example, allowing students to join Google Meet live sessions via phone).
- Provide as many specifics as possible about both technology and other resources like textbooks.
- When is participation expected? Are there regular due dates each week or class day?
- If you are planning to meet live, be clear about which days and times you expect students to be present, including the time zone.
- If you are planning to have regular self-scheduled participation exercises like discussion forums that are due on a set day or days each week, provide that schedule.
- Will you have virtual office hours or other scheduled opportunities to get help?
- If yes, say when and by what method (videoconference, phone, text-based chat, etc).
- If not, specify how students should set up an appointment to confer with you.
- Have there been significant changes to assignments and/or grading?
- Such changes should be clearly communicated, including point value, due dates, and alterations to requirements.
- If changes to individual assignments affect the grade weighting of the class, explain how.
- Make sure you update the syllabus with any changes so that it stays definitive.
- Who should they go to if they need tech support?
- Students can seek technical support for Champlain-provided technologies through ChampSupport.
- There is 24/7 phone and chat support available for Canvas. Students should click the help button in Canvas to access.
- Please note that the CLT does not provide Canvas support for students.
Suggested Communication Technologies
Email remains a viable means of communication with students, and is easiest for many faculty. However, when teaching remotely, particularly when you have several classes, email can quickly get out of hand. Canvas offers several communication options that can help you ensure that the right messages get to the right groups of students while still providing a centralized place for you to handle individual student messages.
The Canvas Announcements feature allows you to easily send messages to all the students in a Canvas course. Students will be notified in their college email when an announcement is posted. The interface allows you to include files, embedded media, and links without email size restrictions. Instructions on using the Announcements tool are here.
Inbox (Canvas message system)
Canvas also provides a stripped-down system similar to email through which you can contact students individually or in groups. Users will be notified of messages and replies in their college email. Instructions on using Inbox as an instructor are here.
If you plan to use either Announcements or Inbox, make sure you and your students have Canvas configured to send immediate notifications for messages and announcements. Instructions here for faculty and students.
A Canvas discussion forum can be used as a place for questions and answers, and provides an opportunity for students to practice using the Discussions tool if you intend to use it for instruction. Learn to use Canvas Discussions here. Also see our page on interactive activities and discussions, COVID-19 Continuity: Activities and Discussions.
Canvas Mobile App
Students particularly appreciate a quick response when learning remotely. Often a quick one sentence response will let the students know you are aware of their message and will follow up with them later. Make your life easier by using the Canvas Teacher mobile app (iOS and Android) so that you can respond quickly to students from your phone.
If you need to meet with someone live, the CLT recommends Google Meet. Learn how to use Google Meet for meetings and webinars.