In many courses, in-person class time provides students and instructors with a "home base." While Canvas sites are, in many cases, beginning to fulfill this role, for many courses—particularly those which are smaller—class times are where students get their "map" of the term: what has happened, what will happen, what they have to do. It's also where they get a sense of belonging, a sense that the class is a community of which they are a welcome part. As we note on our page about assignments, in-person course meetings are filled with dozens of small conversations and micro-interactions that give students this "map" and this sense of belonging, many (most?) of which don’t even involve the instructor: a student might quickly look over a peer's shoulder to see which PDF he or she has open, ask a student sitting nearby to confirm the deadline for a paper assignment, or venture a guess to their neighbor before daring to answer an instructor's question in front of the whole class.
In-person meetings also provide instructors and students the opportunity to give and receive immediate feedback, whether through a quizzical look, a sea of raised hands, or staying a few minutes after class to ask a question. This type of feedback is much more difficult to capture online, so providing additional time for questions within an online lecture or discussion boards on Canvas will help everyone stay connected and on the same page.
Instructors looking to recreate these aspects of face-to-face course meetings online might try some of the following:
- Create a document that serves as a "one-stop-shop" for students in need of orientation. In an ideal, perfectly planned world, perhaps the syllabus could provide this, but if you are like most of us, your syllabus evolves over time, and whats needed is a living document that continues to represent a "map" of the course for your students. For some, Canvas may be the most natural tool, but others might find a simple Google Doc can serve this purpose.
- If the everyday interactions that ground students are no longer going to happen as a matter of course, think about scheduling them intentionally. If there are three key things students need to know to orient themselves in your class, help them out by putting them into pairs or small groups in Zoom to ask the simple questions that will get them talking about these key orienting points ("what’s the reading for next week?" or "what are you going to write your midterm paper on and are we clear on when it's due?"). You could build this time into the beginning of each online session.
- While we typically focus first on making sure the students can see and hear the instructor, it's equally crucial that students are seen and heard (and that they feel they are seen and heard). This, too, takes additional structure and intentionality online. Even if you are reluctant to structure student contributions in a traditional classroom (i.e. by going around the room and asking each student to make a comment, or by having structured student presentations), you might think of doing so in the online environment to help ensure that each student feels connected with the course.
- In the spirit of maintaining this connection, consider scheduling more individual check-ins with your students, as possible. Depending on the size of your class and your teaching team, you could offer mandatory online office hours for individuals, pairs, or small groups, to make sure students stay connected with each other and with the TFs/other members of the teaching team. These could be structured around upcoming assignments, outstanding student questions, or focused on peer review or other ways to make sure students are connecting with each other and the teaching staff about the course materials.