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How to Interact With Your Online Students

written by: Beth Taylor•edited by: Jacqueline Chinappi•updated: 11/27/2009

Suggestions for online professors and teachers to prevent students from feeling isolated. Ways to engage students in an online community.

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    Changes in Education

    The extent to which the internet has changed our society remains to be seen. Generations are growing up getting their news from the internet instead of a newspaper, looking for information online instead of at the library, and communication occurs via texts, emails, and online education. We are only beginning to see how this has changed the study habits and attention spans of students today.

    Online professors today earned their education in environments that do not compare with the environments in which their students are working. By understanding this difference, online teachers can find ways to reach their remote students.

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    There is a level of respect and attention people automatically give when gathered together in a room in which a teacher is speaking. To behave in any other way would be rude. Classroom professors are often lecturing to the people sitting in the room, and there is a form of interaction happening. Being present in each other's company helps classroom teachers maintain the attention of their students.

    Be it right or wrong, it is much easier to lose the attention of your students when they are watching a pre-recorded lecture. Dynamic speakers will more likely hold the attention of remote viewers. Look directly at the camera when you record a lecture so that it looks like you are looking at the student. Use physical gesticulations and varying tones of voice when appropriate.

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    Office Hours

    While students will not visit you in your physical office, it is good to have official "office hours" in which you are online in a class chatroom. Advertise that you are available there during certain hours every week, and try to vary whether your office hours are morning, afternoon, or evening. This will give your students the best chance to be able to contact you with questions or a desire to discuss the material in real time.

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    Email Communication

    When your online students email you, respond as quickly as you can. At the beginning of the term, give them a promise of a 24 hour response time if that is feasible for you. Students who know they are being paid attention to are more likely to remain engaged with the work. Students who feel the are being ignored due to slow response time may become frustrated and angry.

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    Don't be shy about emailing students reminders about class assignments. And do remind students to ask you questions -- they probably need to be reminded of this more than on-campus students, since online students won't have moments before and after class, or even bumping into you on campus, in which they can have an impromptu conversation.

    You can help your online students stay focused by being as available and quick to respond as is reasonable for you.