Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I’ll remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.
The first thing I always try to build up at the beginning of the course is a social presence. I want students to feel okay to raise any questions they have about the course syllabus any time throughout the course to enhance student-student and student-instructor interaction. For all on-campus courses that I am assigned to teach, it is hard to spend enough time with every student during limited lecture hours. Thus, it is not always possible to answer all questions that students have about the course. To accommodate students, I always try to hold part of my office hours in the classroom right after each class. This practice has resulted in some in-depth discussion about the lecture materials. Some students even choose to stay and listen to other students’ questions; especially it is helpful in policy and theory courses. I sometimes schedule an extra class time to go over the most challenging course content with students who are interested in additional learning opportunities and have the time to come and to learn in a group setting.
Technological tools is another way, which have allowed me to reach better students with different learning styles, increase my availability to students, and ultimately, improve the student’s learning process. Because technology has come to be a necessary and valuable part of learning, I make use of various technological tools in all the courses I teach.
E-mail is the primary communication tool I use with students outside of scheduled class time. I try my best to reply to students emails or answer phone messages when I can so that students know I am reachable outside classroom when they want to study and encounter some difficulties. However, to maintain manageable levels in answering e-mails and phone calls, I am using telephone and e-mail office hours. Students can leave me a phone message anytime, and I will reply on the designated time that is posted in the course syllabus. I usually respond to all e-mails within my e-mail hours that are listed in the course syllabus, so students know when to expect my answer and if they have a quick question they can receive an immediate response.
I have used both the WEB CT / ANGEL / Blackboard / Brightspace D2L class interface as well as class e-mail list to post the course schedule, explain projects in detail, provide students with additional ideas on how to complete course assignments, and provide them with resources and supplementary material. I find that using course management system and class e-mail list increases students’ involvement with the course material and allows me to model what it means to be a good communicator, always keeping my audience in mind.
I also have tried to maintain my communication with students even when the course is completed, as I am interested in their success and to build the network of social workers alumni, who can be potential mentors and guest speakers in my future classes. I believe that Facebook and Linked In are excellent social networking tools to keep in touch. However, I acknowledge numerous limitations of those services and try to maintain my accounts in a highly professional way to sustain an appropriate level of privacy.
I also found that the use of web conferences tools to be particularly useful in teaching distance education courses. I have experienced great success with “online” live communication with students. I find that many of my distance education students have scheduling conflicts, or live outside of the city and thus, live web conference that is scheduled via doodle poll and recorded for future viewings allows me to increase my availability to them. I use live web conferences in all my distance courses to hold online live discussions about the course content. Because I do much of my work on the computer, I am logged in at the scheduled time on either BB Collaborate, Skype, Zoom or Adobe Connect and make myself available for several hours nearly every second week for all interested students and I have found that students are very responsive to those sessions.
Students often send me messages as they are working on assignments at home or in the computer lab, to ask a quick question, get some suggestions, or even request that I read a paper and chat with them about how it might be improved. However, I ask students to value everyone’s time and understand the limitations of these online tools, as sometimes I receive nearly 40-50 e-mails per week and it is hard to answer all of them in the limited time, so I encourage students to visit me during office hours after class or attend online live session, because I believe that live contact is still the best way of communication.