Thursday, February 25, 2010

Getting Online Students to Read Important First Communications

A recent discussion thread in an online facilitation course concerned the topic of students not reading early communications such as the Welcome email or the syllabus and then not knowing how to proceed. Here is the response I wrote.

Here are some ideas we have used in various courses for trying to make sure students read important information.

If the Welcome letter is sent via email ask them to reply to the message. This is a good way to

  • establish early contact
  • make sure their email is working
  • begin to train them on how to write good subject lines for their messages

Mention the Welcome letter in an announcement or Q&A posting and ask students if they received it.

Have a quiz during the first week, an easy one, which 'tests' them on the letter or the syllabus. This one has worked really well for me. The quiz 'tests' them on the very things students always used to ask me, "When are assignments due?" for example. I rarely get those questions now.

Finding Your Online Voice

I have been on blogging hiatus, but I am going to try to be more intentional about adding posts here whenever I answer student questions. Here is that exact thing. A student asked about finding the right tone/voice when teaching online. My reply...

Have you ever talked with someone who was snippy and seemed short-tempered? Not fun, is it? Such conversations make us want to end the conversation as quickly as possible and move on, would you agree?

There is something about words on a page or a screen which come across with something akin to that kind of tone unless we work hard at softening the message. Obviously as an online facilitator the last thing we want is for our students to end conversations with us and move away as quickly as possible. So having a terse, or snippy tone in our communications is not what we want.

One way to note if your tone is too short-tempered is to imagine a f2f conversation with someone. What elements of a 'real' conversation are not part of your online communication? Add those into your text-based conversations. I am prone to short, almost snippy answers. As a busy person, I answer the question that is asked. However, I have learned to go back and re-read and picture myself in a f2f situation. What would I say in person that I haven't said here?

Finding your voice and adjusting your tone is a key part of being a successful facilitator.

Thanks for asking a great question!