Teaching Strategies

Communication & Community

Class meetings often serve as a clear home base for students and instructors alike in face-to-face instruction by providing opportunities to ask questions, clarify logistics, quickly check student understanding, and develop a learning community through verbal and nonverbal forms of communication. It can be difficult to replicate all of that work online, even if you are making regular use of synchronous session. Making use of the following tools helps you communicate clearly about logistics, get feedback from students, and establish a sense of rapport and common purpose with your students.

Communicate with Students

There are a variety of ways to send students a brief message, building your rapport and pointing them toward what they need to do.

Class Email

Email is the most direct way BC provides to communicate brief but essential information to a group. Follow the instructions from Information Technology Services on how to use a group message to email your class.

Canvas Announcements

You can send an announcement through Canvas, which will email students a notification and a link to read your message.  Announcements are stored in your Canvas site so it is easy to refer to them later. Click ‘Announcements’ in the left-hand course navigation bar, and then click on the ‘+Announcements’ button. More documentation on announcements is available from the Center for Teaching Excellence.

Canvas Media Recordings

Canvas Media Recordings allow you to create brief (maximum 10 minutes) video and audio communications for your students, using the mic and webcam on your laptop. Recordings can be a convenient alternative to text instructions where something is most effectively communicated via voice. Recordings can be added within a Canvas page, assignment, discussion or quiz (see more on these tools, below). You can create a Canvas Media Recording in any place where you use the Rich Content Editor in Canvas. Flash must be up to date on your laptop for recording to work. Simply click on the icon of the film strip to get started. A helpful guide for more detailed information on creating media recordings is available in Canvas documentation.

Online Office Hours

Be available through a virtual conference to answer questions in real time. Even if there isn’t a need to meet with the entire class, individual students might have questions. Faculty already using Zoom should continue using it, faculty unfamiliar with it should use Google Meet which is connected directly to your Boston College email address. Depending on student access, you might also consider scheduling a phone call, if you’re comfortable doing so.

Collect Feedback from Students 

Consistently gathering feedback from your students about their experience in your course can be useful on several different levels: it can help you build rapport with your students, address any misconceptions students might have, and provide you with the information you need to facilitate increasingly inclusive and just classroom environments. 

While teaching remotely, some of the indicators instructors use to gather informal feedback from students – body language, tone, etc. – might be more difficult to gauge, especially for instructors and students who are new to the setting. Learning remotely may also make it more difficult for students to touch base with instructors personally after a class, as they might in an in-person class. At the same time, the drastic changes all of us are experiencing personally and professionally mean that it is more important than ever to have clear avenues of communication. 

You can, however, still easily and regularly gather feedback from your students on everything from the technology they can reliably access to their experience with the new methods and tools being used in the course. 

Methods for Collecting Feedback

You have access to a number of different tools that you can easily use to collect information from your students. Google Forms is automatically available to you through your G Suite account,  and Google provides a helpful guide to get you started.  

Survey Examples
Here are examples of some of the survey questions other instructors on campus are asking their students:

When preparing to gather information from your students, there are a couple of factors you will want to consider:

Frequency

How often you want to gather feedback from your students depends on what you are hoping to learn from your students. The “exit ticket” example (above) can be used at the end of every class as a way to prompt metacognitive reflection in students and to give you a better sense of how students are processing the material. If the course is mostly occurring asynchronously, or if you can’t imagine devoting a few minutes at the end of every class, you might adapt this type of survey as a weekly practice, or as a way to conclude every (mini)unit. 

Other surveys, like those intended to gauge students’ expectations for remote learning or their experience of the class as a whole in its new form should be used more sparingly, so that students avoid survey fatigue, and so that you have a chance to review, interpret, and act on the information provided. Given that things may change rapidly for all of us right now, giving students clear, hospitable guidance on how to best communicate with you between or after surveys can go a long way.  

Anonymity 

Whenever you are gathering information from your students, it’s important to decide if that information should be anonymized. When the survey gauges students’ learning (like the exit ticket shown above), it is less important for the answers to be anonymous.  For example, some instructors use the exit ticket as a low-stakes assignment or as part of a participation grade. Others like to have a name attached in order to follow up directly with a student when appropriate. 

Anytime you are asking for feedback on the course, it is more important that the information be anonymized so that students feel comfortable answering honestly. No matter what you decide, communicate that decision with your students so that they understand the method and can make informed decisions about what they share.

Reporting Back to Your Students

Whenever you collect feedback from your students, it is important to close the loop with them. This can look like a quick review of what came up in the exit tickets, or a more extended conversation about how the course is going for students and any changes that might be made to continue supporting student learning or to address any barriers to learning. 

It isn’t necessary to address everything students mentioned when you are closing the loop with them. Instead, look for themes in the data and decide what intervention is most appropriate to address that theme. When you’ve made those choices, decide on a way to report back to your students. This might be a short lecture summarizing what you’ve heard, a handout highlighting major themes, or another method that feels more appropriate given your course context. 

If you have any questions about designing a survey or interpreting feedback, please email centerforteaching@bc.edu to schedule a consult.