Building Community and Connection

A major focus of the Online Teaching Boot Camp is how to be human in your online course. Bring your personality into it, as well as a commitment to respond to student input in a timely, thoughtful manner. The interaction—between students, between students and faculty, and between the students and the content, is where community and connection is built. Your ability to connect with students is what makes an online course a valuable learning experience.

Here are some ideas on how to build and develop community:

  • Upload a picture or create an avatar in Blackboard and invite students to do the same.
  • Post your own introduction in the Introductions discussion board—this is something you’ll learn about in Boot Camp.
  • Welcome students to your course by using a course announcement. Encourage them to access the “Getting Started” page and review the course materials.
  • Make at least two or more course announcements per week to help students feel your presence and to communicate important information. Your ID can help you brainstorm creative ways to use the Announcements tool to increase engagement.
  • Leave responses to students as they participate in the interactive assignments and exercises, such as discussion boards, blogs, wikis, etc.
  • Identify students who are not engaging in the course and contact them via email, or if necessary, by phone to encourage them to log in. You can find login data in the performance dashboard in Blackboard.
  • Reinforce your expectations throughout the term.

Communicating with Students

  • In your course syllabus, be sure to explain the best way to communicate with you, both in method and schedule (e.g., if you prefer email, state that in the syllabus). If your schedule changes, be sure to notify students.
  • Respond to student questions within 24 hours during the week and 48 hours on the weekend.
  • Identify online office hours in your course syllabus. These should be times when you will be actively checking email and be available to communicate with students.
  • Continuously communicate relevant course, college, and university deadlines and events to students as appropriate.

Discussion Boards, Blogs, and Other Interactive Elements

  • In the course syllabus, identify and articulate both the role you intend to play in interactive elements of your course, and the role(s) you expect students to play.
  • Establish appropriate “netiquette” guidelines.
  • Monitor all interactive assignments to ensure students are participating and adhering to University conduct standards.

If there are any synchronous Q & A sessions planned for your course, accommodate students in different time zones. Recognize that many students may be balancing the course with work commitments and may be unable to log on as specific times.

Student Assessment, Grading, and Faculty Feedback

  • All assessment and grading criteria should be detailed in the course syllabus.
  • Instructor’s expectations for grading and providing feedback should be stated in the syllabus, including anticipated response time.
  • When appropriate, use rubrics to grade student assignments. These rubrics should appear in the course syllabus so that students are aware of them right from the start. PACE’s instructional design team will be happy to share rubric samples with you, or help you develop rubrics appropriate to your content and expectations.
  • All student work should be graded in the Blackboard Grade Center. Substantive feedback and grades should be accessible to students according to the expectations that you’ve set.
  • When appropriate, notify students and their student advisor if there is a concern around grades and/or participation in the course.

End of Course

  • Communicate all deadlines and final assessments to students.
  • Identify when students can expect final grades.
  • Encourage all students to participate in course evaluations.