10 Tips for fostering instructional immediacy in online classrooms

How can we create online learning environments that are as dynamic, collaborative and successful as the best face-to-face classrooms? Is it even possible? My own experience in online graduate teaching over the past two decades suggests an emphatic “yes”. Or, should I say, an emphatic “yes, but…”.

Just as there are multiple and diverse classroom-based teaching approaches (some more successful than others in engaging learners and mobilizing knowledge transfer), there are as many ways and means of online instructional approaches. All students, regardless of the learning platform, engage best when they experience high instructional immediacy. That is, a sense of warmth, caring, connectedness, support and positive regard in the learning environment.

1. Post a positive and supportive welcome message to greet students the first time they log into the course, and each week thereafter

2. Share online bios (pictures are a bonus – students and instructor) to facilitate self-introductions

3. If you haven’t already, include short (< 5 minutes) “conversational” videos introducing weekly course topics and offering tips and key learning to personalize each week’s focus

4. Encourage students to find “peer learning buddies” in the class to foster collaboration and collegiality

5. Have early and ongoing online, discussion board conversations about process, meaning “how it feels”; versus course content, meaning “what we’re learning” – especially near the beginning of the course. Reflecting on process fosters a sense of shared place and community. Here are a couple of sample questions I’ve used:

  • What are you looking forward to in this course, and what is one thing you are concerned about?
  • How can we challenge each-other in ways that foster debate and dialogue but still be respectful and affirming?
  • What is it like for you being in this course and connecting together online?
  • How can I (professor) help maximize your learning and value from this course? And how can you help one another?

6. Offer targeted motivational communications at points in the course where motivation may be flagging (e.g., around Week 6, and towards the final couple of weeks of the course) 

7. Use intentional word choices in online communications with students (such as via class emails, discussion board posts, and course announcements). These can be subtle, and a conversational tone helps convey the sense of community and connection that we are trying to build.

Here are a couple of examples:

GoodBetter
“The focus of this course is…”“Our course will focus on…”
“You will be required to…”“We’ll be working together to accomplish…”
“Students’ feedback has indicated…”“The conversation in our group this week has highlighted…”

8. End the course with an explicit call to action – How does the learning in this course fit into the bigger picture of students’ learning trajectories and career goals? (here’s a video example from a few years ago – this was a social work addiction treatment course I taught at the University of Toronto).

9. Students often expect “24/7” availability and communication, and sometimes even more so when the course is online. That’s not realistic! Help manage expectations by being explicit with students about how often you check into the course, and the expected response time for student questions.

10. Be patient with yourself. You didn’t become an awesome classroom teacher overnight, and it will take time to be as awesome online. Let students know we are all learning together.

As students – and faculty – have had to pivot in orienting to rich digital communication and sharing, online teaching aligns with a new, shared, reality for all of us. The skills of fostering community in digital environments map closely to professional (and personal) applications far beyond the classroom. We’ve collectively experienced how digital inclusion, networking and collaboration are as essential as oxygen.

This post was adapted from: https://educateria.com/2014/06/24/10-tips-for-online-teaching/

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