We highlight some techniques to help develop a sense of learning ‘community’.
Tone and style
Given that offshore students will be accessing the course materials and announcements purely online, be mindful to use clear language:
- Ensure your weekly communication is friendly, succinct and uses simple language.
- Use red, bold, italics, exclamation mark and capital letters in the body of your text sparingly.
- Use bullet points where possible when communicating directly.
- Use meaningful headings to chunk information.
- Communicate with empathy – acknowledge that the students are in a difficult situation.
- Do not use acronyms, jargon, colloquial language.
- Keep your communication clear and unambiguous.
Welcome your students to the course
Providing a personal welcome is a great way set the best possible tone and climate and develop a positive relationship with students. Create a personal introduction video and include it in your welcome announcement so students are introduced to teaching staff. Explain the course outline and let students know what they will achieve in the course (objectives).
- Consider using this welcome to the course template in your initial announcement.
- Consider also including the personal introduction template.
You can encourage students to introduce themselves too.
- Ask students to introduce themselves to each other in a discussion forum to start building a community, e.g., organise students in Canvas Group and use the Canvas Discussion or some other activity (refer to the TEC-VARIETY article below).
Including off-campus students in a positive learning experience (The University of Sydney)
Adding Some TEC-VARIETY: 100+ Activities for Motivating and Retaining Learners Online
Contact details and virtual office hours
Have a communications plan. Let students know how they can contact you. You may have your own preference here e.g., either through Canvas (Inbox) or by email.
Instruct students to review their Canvas notifications settings. These are found under the Account button on the Canvas side menu. Advise them to turn on notifications for (at least) Announcements and Conversations, Due Date, and Calendar.
Ask students to ensure their University email account is forwarding to their personal email address (for those who prefer to use personal email only).
To-do list for preparing students
Consider when you want students to familiarise themselves with your Canvas course, when your course will be ‘viewable’ and what things they will be able to view at this time.
Create a to-do list for students using the to-do-list template.
- Explain where students will go to get their course information and updates (refer them to their Canvas Group space if used).
- Ensure students understand how the course will work by referring them to the Syllabus page.
- Explain how the assessments will work for Offshore Students.
- Have students check whether they are able to view your introduction video.
- Ask students to install Zoom on their computer.
- Ask them to upload a profile photo to Canvas: https://canvas.auckland.ac.nz/profile, and the same for Zoom: https://auckland.zoom.us/profile. Let them know they can use a virtual Zoom background if they wish.
If you have students in your course who are overseas, or studying remotely from within New Zealand, ask them to download and install the University’s VPN service (Virtual Private Network). This enables them to connect their home computer to the campus network with access to systems that are otherwise unavailable from off campus. See more information about accessing technologies restricted from off-campus and blocked from various countries.
During the semester
- Provide a weekly guide for your course (download a weekly guide template). State what your students will learn this week (learning outcomes). What tasks do you need them to do? Give clear instructions of how you want students to prepare for and do during (and after) the class.
- Monitor weekly discussions. Be careful not to ‘jump into the conversation too soon’ – lecturer presence can sometimes stifle a discussion but you also do not want them to continue on with obviously incorrect assumptions.
- Make sure resources are available to all students – remember to publish your Canvas pages, assessments etc.
- Record your class sessions and making these available to offshore students.
- Consider conducting a formative evaluation of your course in order to understand your students’ pain points. You may be able to adapt your course delivery accordingly.
Using Canvas Groups
To manage the learning and communications for a particular group we recommend assigning them to a Canvas Group. This allows you to communicate separately and offer additional support in the Group space.
- Add a group set in a course.
- Manually assign students to groups.
- Watch this short video on setting up Canvas Groups.
- Students can access the group from the sidebar in Canvas.
Use Groups to:
- Send announcements to group members.
- Create group pages.
- Share files just to group members.
- Create group specific discussions.
- Create conferences (using BigBlueButton).
- View student activity within the the Group homepage.
An academic’s perspective
In Semester Two 2020, Dr. Ella Kahu (Massey University) held a webinar for the Faculty of Science’s Ako Innovations workshop series. The seminar was called ‘Creating an engaging online learning and teaching environment.’
Read more about Dr. Ella Kahu research article on “Framing student engagement in higher education“.