Online learning environments can feel empty and distant, but they don’t have to. There are many ways to connect with your students, have them connect with each other, and help them connect with the course content.
The key to humanizing an online space is to be intentional about building human relationships. These relationships enable strong connections between students, develop mentorship opportunities with instructors, and encourage deep engagement with the content. There are MANY strategies, methods, tools, and techniques that can help support the development and maintenance of these relationships. Below are a few ideas.
- Remember the Human. Even though digital spaces can feel distant and isolated, there are human beings on the other side of every word you type or image you share. Thinking about how your message might be taken by someone else, especially if they are having a bad day or skimming the message, will help your intent come through and help put your students more at ease.
- Be Present. This can be done through sharing weekly announcements with a personal touch, engaging in the discussion boards, having optional lighthearted synchronous sessions where students can come ask questions and get to know each other, sharing your office hours and encouraging students to attend virtually, and responding in a timely manner to emails and other student contact.
- Be Personable and Personal through sharing images, stories, hobbies, pets, interests, and other aspects of your life. This helps students get to know you as a whole human being, and establishes solid ground to build a professional relationship on.
- Connect with Students by asking them questions about their goals and interests, sharing your own interests and passions about the class or discipline, and working collaboratively with them to help shape and mentor them into a path for their future.
- Work to Gain Empathy and Awareness by getting to know your students, their goals, and their challenges. You can do this through ‘introduce yourself” discussion threads, surveys about potential challenges students may face in your class, setting individual meetings with them, and inviting students to email you anytime.
- Promote a Formative, Growth Oriented, Mindset through using formative assessments, peer reviews, and providing meaningful feedback with chances for revision.
- Provide Agency and Ownership to Students. This can be done through things like using flexible assignments where students can choose how much something is worth or how to complete the assignment (e.g., paper, proposal, interview, video, etc.), or allowing them choice over groups, project types and topics.
If you would like to learn more about these or other teaching tips, be sure to catch the Humanizing Your Online Course Workshop Series hosted by the Center for Teaching and Learning, and supported by the Learning Design and Technology department. You can register for these and other sessions, and find teaching guides and other training offerings at teaching.uncc.edu. You can also view archived sessions on our YouTube Channel.