Using Our Humanity to Connect With Online Classes

In normal times, the student-professor relationship may not be foremost on instructors’ minds. But these times are not normal, and when we log in to class rather than walk through a door, it’s easy to name what’s missing: the emotional connection we develop with our students, and it is sorely lacking in remote learning.

Connecting with our students on a human level was easier in the pre-pandemic days when we might greet our charges in the halls or chat with them before a session. We’d welcome them as they entered the room or perhaps we’d stay after class to answer their questions. All this casual interaction came naturally when we shared the same space.

Covid changed that dynamic. Nevertheless, research supports the importance of the bond between learner and teacher, which is integral not only to student engagement but to retention rates. Instructors can, however, take steps to do something about it. The tips below can help develop the warmth and friendliness that is one key to the student-professor bond.

Use students’ names. The simple act of recognizing students as individuals can help them feel that their instructor cares enough to see them as more than a square on a screen. Using students’ names is a powerful tool to facilitate connection.

Conduct short one-on-one meetings. Taking the time—and it is extra time—to meet individually with students, especially early in the term, sets the stage for engagement. It is harder for students to feel disengaged if their professor has talked with them about their goals. Likewise, instructors feel more attached to students when getting to know more about them, forging that desirable bond.

Provide feedback regularly. Showing students how they are doing illustrates that the instructor is actively teaching and responding to students’ work. This sparks a positive feedback loop between instructor and student.

Maintain high expectations. Encouraging students to work hard is critical to their success and engagement. Despite the difficulties online learning presents, instructors can be a motivational force by expecting students to push themselves.

Make assignments relevant. Students emotionally connect to course content when assignments stoke their interest. In the business communication classroom, content is inherently useful for students’ lives outside the academy, but instructors can make assignments more interesting by using realistic scenarios and cases. Such pedagogical devices add an element of fun and thereby increase emotional engagement.

Foster student agency. The more students feel they have choice in their education, the more they engage with the material. By providing choices in topics or the way an assignment is delivered, instructors help motivate their students, leading to a mutually beneficial learning experience.

When students feel connected to their professor and their course, they feel more than engaged. They are also more likely to remain on our class rosters. In an era when student retainment has become a major issue, this is no mean feat.

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