Communication & interactivity

Meaningful interactions are an essential part of an effective teaching environment. Class communication can be divided into three primary channels: instructor to a student; student to student; and student to instructor. As you develop your syllabus and plan classroom activities, be sure to clarify regularly your expectations about how you want students to engage with each channel.

Following these guidelines will help you and your students to develop efficient and clear channels of communication that will foster a positive learning experience.

Communicating with your students

As the instructor, you set the tone of communication for the entire class, both in-person and online. Communicating regularly and meaningfully makes the difference between an engaged and a disengaged student.

Synchronous communication with students

Here are a few guidelines and suggestions to facilitate communication with your students during times when you are meeting together.

Make sure there are open lines of communication between yourself, the in-person students, and the online students at the start of each class session.

  • Ensure that you go over some rules of the road for online and in-person students. Many students don't adhere to online etiquette unless coached.  Not doing so can create distractions for everyone.
  • Repeat questions from in-person students so that online learners can clearly hear them and be engaged in the conversation.
  • Call on students from the online group to respond to questions. Their web mic will make it easy for everyone in the class to hear them.
  • Discourage in-class students from logging in to Zoom in the classroom. Unless students remember to mute their microphones, there is a possibility of creating painful audio feedback.

Encourage your students to use NameCoach before the first class session. This will allow you and your students to learn how to correctly pronounce each other's names. This will boost your confidence in calling on specific students during class and promote positive interactions.

Survey your class regularly to find out what kinds of activities work best for them and in what ways you can improve.

Know how and when to use the classroom technology available to you.

  • The Classroom Database provides details about the installed technology in your classroom as well as a Support contact. If possible, touch base with the Support contact to discuss how you plan to use the classroom technology and what you can expect from them when you need help.
  • Create a cheat sheet on how to use the technology in your classroom.

Asynchronous communication with students

Communicating with your students outside of regularly scheduled class periods is a vital part of establishing the trust and sense of community necessary for an effective teaching environment. Here are some suggestions for ways to increase your teaching presence during these periods.

  • Canvas Announcements (Canvas video) - Use the Announcements tool to provide timely reminders before and after class about assignments, due dates, etc. Announcements can help prep students for the day's synchronous session as well as recap, reinforce, and clarify important ideas that were revealed in-class activities and discussions. Creative use of announcements offers you an additional modality to express your personality to students and increase their level of engagement.
  • Canvas Discussions (Canvas video) - Monitor and contribute regularly to any discussion activities you create. Your contributions make clear that you are meaningfully engaged with your students and are an additional opportunity to guide them towards the most important aspects of course content. Referring to specific discussion threads and their authors in synchronous class sessions make it clear that you value that learning activity and demonstrates its utility for students.

When using Zoom, make sure you record your lectures and class sessions.  It helps all students to go back and review the material.  Additionally, online students sometimes have technology glitches and have to drop off the meeting.

Facilitating communication between students

Student to student communication is one of the primary ways in which course content is meaningfully constructed by students. Use all of the tools at your disposal to get students engaged with one another synchronously and asynchronously.

Synchronous communication between students

During class time, maximize the students' engagement with one another and minimize the amount of time in which the instructor is relaying information in a one-way direction at students. This will help students to feel that class time is valuable because their individual presence is vital to the classroom experience.

Asynchronous communication between students

There are a number of tools within Canvas that can enable students to engage with one another one on one, in small groups, and as a class. Carefully applying the appropriate tool to the task at hand will enliven students' engagement with one another.

  • Canvas Announcements (Canvas video) - While the Announcements tool is principally used for faculty to student communication, it can also be set to allow comments and 'likes' from students. If you post a reminder about an assignment, enabling these commenting features allows a space for students to communicate their questions in a public forum which can reduce the number of emails you receive and help to build consensus around your expectations.
  • Canvas Discussions (Canvas video) - The Discussions tool allows students to develop their ideas as a community. Discussions can be used informally to allow for low stakes development of ideas. Discussions can be used effectively for peer-to-peer learning (EX: have students upload a first draft of an essay and provide peer feedback to one another). Providing clear expectations in the form of a discussion post rubric to students can ensure that they create a thoughtful, well-documented dialogue that directly relates to course content. Remember to monitor and contribute regularly to any discussion activity you create.
  • Canvas Peer Review (Canvas article) - This feature for Canvas Assignments allows for peer critique of selected work. Peer combinations can be assigned by the instructor or created randomly by Canvas.

Listening to your students

Meaningful interaction requires that all parties have ways to meaningfully engage with one another. Clearly communicating to your students how you want them to interact with you will reduce confusion and foster an effective learning environment.

Synchronous communication from students

  • Open a Google Doc or Canvas Chat for each session and designate a student or teaching assistant to monitor it for you. Check in regularly throughout the class to answer any questions, review the discussion, etc. 
    • Consider linking online students to in-person students through designated groups. Encourage students to communicate with their groups as questions/comments arise. In-person group leaders can also funnel questions to the instructor. 
  • Consider using Top Hat (Centers article) to rapidly collect answers to questions from every student, and if desired, to graphically display a summary of data. This helps instructors activate the classroom as well as peers to engage with each other while interacting with complex materials. Top Hat utilizes no separate hardware but rather asks students to use the devices they already have with them in class including a phone, tablet, or laptop. No additional hardware needs to be installed on the computer to run polling and Top Hat is integrated with Canvas and has the ability to synchronize grades.
  • Use the Annotation tool in Zoom (Zoom article) to allow students to collectively draw/comment on an image. This can be an effective tool for brainstorming and gauging students' initial understanding of a concept. Annotated images can be saved and later posted to the class for additional activities. Coach the students to verbally describe their annotations for the benefits of anyone that cannot see the video.
  • Zoom polls (Zoom article) Launching a Zoom poll at the start of class can prime students for the day's content, allow the instructor to survey the class' reaction to a recent assignment, and facilitate communication in other ways. Zoom polls should be written before class begins.

Asynchronous communication from students

In many cases, interactions from student to instructor that occur outside of class sessions are of great importance to an effective learning environment. Students may be unclear about assignment instructions, due dates, or expectations and will need clarification from the instructor to alleviate their concerns. These guidelines can help minimize some of these frustrations and allow you and your students to function in an atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding.

  • Clearly explain how you want students to communicate with you (i.e. Canvas Inbox (Canvas article), Outlook email, etc). Set expectations for how frequently you check these channels and how long students should anticipate before they receive a response from you. Include this information in your syllabus and review it multiple times during in-class time.
  • Regularly review any Canvas Discussion activities you create to see if there are concepts or questions that need to be addressed during synchronous class sessions.
  • If the class size is not prohibitive, require a short (10-15) minute Zoom call with each online student to get to know them.  They don't have the same chance to chit chat before and after class.  This helps tremendously with engagement.