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Virtual Communication & Office Hours

Moving to remote instruction requires moving to fully at-a-distance communication, which can seem daunting for faculty and students alike. Many professors have questions around how to ensure engagement, how to best provide office hours, and how to ensure attendance requirements are being met.

As you transition fully online, note that communication is key. Providing multiple avenues of communication can reduce anxiety and make communicating with individual and groups of students easier. Below are some suggestions to help as you consider communication channels in your digital classroom.

Class Questions Discussion Forum. It is beneficial to have a discussion forum specifically for class questions which makes it possible for all students to benefit from questions asked and answered. This is a great place for navigation, course assignment, and clarification questions. Simply create a discussion forum and be sure that its title makes the purpose clear.

Social Discussion Forum. In this unprecedented time in history when students are practicing social distancing and isolation it is more important than ever to work to build social presence in the online class. An easy way to promote peer-to-peer engagement is to design a discussion forum for students to “chat” with each other about any topic. Many instructors title this discussion forum the “Café” and make it clear this is an unmonitored forum and a safe place for students to share. (It may be important to set boundaries as to appropriate topics.)

Introductory Discussion Forums. Set up an introductory discussion post to help students get to know one another. Use creative prompts to promote organic engagement. As an example, ask students to share a bit about themselves and their academic journey and then to share the name of a movie (or song, or book, etc.) that describes their life. The idea is to make the discussion more natural and responses more organic than post about yourself and respond to two others.

Announcements. Make regular and consistent announcements – consider setting a schedule for instance, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday post an update to the course highlighting assignments, questions you have received, etc. Announcements are highly visible when a student enters the classroom and are a good way to grab their attention and remind them of upcoming due dates.

Virtual Office Hours – Scheduled meetings. Using this method you ask students to email you to schedule an appointment and then either meet with them using Collaborate or over the phone. Consider this the “by appointment” method you might have used when meeting face-to-face.

Virtual Office Hours - Collaborate Drop In Room. Using this method, you set specific dates/times to have your Collaborate or Skype room open and publish the link in the classroom along with the dates/times. Students may drop-in anytime during the set hours. You may consider having a presentation ready covering course questions or concepts that are missed by multiple students to present and record at virtual hours that have no student attendance. Share the recording and encourage students to attend the next session.

Note for Spring 2020 during remote work period: While it may be helpful for you to host these hours at the same time as you had originally set your campus hours this semester, it is understood that moving to online requires some flexibility of scheduling and timing to accommodate different schedules.

Attendance Tracking. Tracking attendance follows different formats for online courses depending on how you have set up your course. For instance, if you require synchronous meeting times, you can take attendance through these meetings. Some instructors take attendance weekly after students have completed the assignments for the week. The important thing to note is that attendance in online courses should be attached to engagement—and not simply logging on. Additionally, you should provide information to students related to how you will count their attendance.

Do you have other ideas/suggestions to share with your colleagues? Please email rluck@stlcc.edu and we will include them in this list!

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