3 Tips to Connect With Your Online Students



This is a guest post by Josh Murdock, an instructional designer at Valencia College in Florida.

Students today aren’t the students we knew when we were in school. They are learning in brand new environments, using tools that didn’t exist as short as five years ago. Over 21 million students are taking at least one online course, and that number is growing every semester. The reality is that there are no longer traditional or online students; students everywhere are taking courses both online and in brick-and-mortar classrooms. As instructors and administrators, we have the opportunity to help students accustomed to traditional courses become successful in online environments.

One of the hardest adjustments for students transitioning from a traditional classroom to an online environment is feeling connected to their teacher. Many times in online courses students are a username while instructors become virtual computers responding back to questions and grading projects. But, this doesn’t have to happen with a few key tricks to creating an environment where online teachers become real.

Here are three simple tips to help students make the transition from traditional to online easier:

Tip #1: Create a Community From the Start

Develop a sense of connection between yourself and the students early on in the course through an introduction discussion. Have students post about themselves in discussion boards or blogs to the rest of the class encouraging them to respond to each other. (Don’t forget to include some background questions that relate to the course in this discussion.) As the instructor, the biggest way to start that connection is personalizing your replay to each student, instead of just a cookie cutter response.  To get the thread started, post about yourself with some personal information (your interests, favorite book, etc). Offering personal information will help students connect with you and make it so you aren’t a robotic, online teacher.

Tip #2: Assign an “All About Me” Project

Another assignment that helps me learn more about students and teaches them how to use a type of software is an “All About Me” project. I have used both PowerPoint and Glogster for students to create projects on their background, education, job history, personal interest, and future goals. I create an example with my own information, which helps us get to know each other. I make sure to respond, not to just the project feedback, but to the information they include on a personal level.

Tip #3: Increase Student Engagement With Video Announcements

This tip has been the most successful and seems to be rare among online courses currently. Provide announcements or weekly updates via video updates. I have created weekly updates via webcam for my online educational technology courses for a few semesters now. Students have given great feedback on this type of video announcement. Students say they feel more connected, understand expectations better, and get a better sense of the assignments each week. I tend to follow a similar theme each week for the video announcements.

  • Discuss the previous week with any type of encouragement or reminders needed.
  • Discuss upcoming week assignments with particular details on assignments, best practices, and questions you typically get from students on the various assignments.
  • Highlight something new and refer students to my Tips and Tricks section for a weekly extra on a tool or information.

This type of video announcement is easy to produce using a basic webcam, sometimes recorded directly to YouTube as an unlisted video. Unlisted setting allows you to easily share the link or embed without having the video searchable or showing up on your YouTube channel. YouTube is great because it will automatically transcode any media to the correct format and is accessible on most mobile devices. Don’t forget how important audio quality is when recording; consider using a microphone instead of the webcam microphone, depending on its quality and clarity. Create a simple script or outline to follow each week as you record, this will help you keep on track and not forget that detail you wanted to discussion.

This type of video announcement lets your students see their online teacher, which is often rare in a fully online course. I typically will embed the video into the announcement area, which will be even easier now with the new Video Everywhere feature added into the Content Editor. It’s also important to include a transcription of the announcement for students needing access to a text version, until auto transcription improves.

Feeling more connected to the course always is always comforting for students, especially those taking their first online course or struggling to understand assignments based on text directions and examples.

Example of one of my Final Week’s Announcements:


Follow these 3 simple tips and I guarantee students will give you positive feedback in the end about feeling more connected and understand assignments better. I receive few questions about the assignments and tend to have less feedback about missing key part by emphasizing them in the video announcement. I get to know my students much better and much earlier in the course using through the introduction discussion and “All About Me” projects. I feel more connected to my online course following these tips, too.

Josh Murdock, also known as Professor Josh, is an instructional designer at Valencia College in Florida, where he has experience building online courses, training faculty on technology, and solving the Blackboard problems of the world. He has taught online, hybrid, and face-to-face for the past ten years. Follow Josh on Twitter @professorjosh.