Monday, September 22, 2014

Building Rapport with Students in an Online Course

Creating an online community and building rapport with your students is essential to an effective learning environment. The concept of social presence is a psychological sense of being "real" and connection with others via technology. We want our students to feel that we value them as a real person in order for them to be satisfied and successful in our courses. This article provides suggestions for building rapport with our online students.

  • Introduce yourself to the class by providing the following information:
      • Your teaching philosophy
      • Teaching experience
      • Personal information such as interests, travel, etc.
      • Office hours and location (real or virtual)
      • Contact information (email, Skype ID, phone number, etc.)
      • Photograph so students can put a face to the name and/or voice
  • Provide an ice-breaker activity during the first week of class in which students can introduce themselves. Your students need a way to get to know you and each other. A good student introduction helps to create a supportive learning environment and a sense of community. Students who are new to online learning may be anxious about this method of delivery and will appreciate the chance to get to know their classmates and settle in to the routine by posting and responding to discussion type activities early on in the course. Ideas for student introductions:
      • Have students find a digital image that represents who they are and upload it to the discussion and explain why it represents them
      • Have students write 3 things about themselves - two are true and one is false. The class tries to guess which thing is false.
      • Post a quote and ask students to comment whether they agree or disagree. Or require them to find a similar or contradictory quote and post it.
  • Send a video chat inside an email to each student introducing yourself and welcoming them to the course. is a program for creating video emails that offers a free trial version. is a program for creating animated messages that can be emailed to students or placed directly into a course (there is a charge for this site).
  • Model the behavior you want from your students. If you want them to log into the course 4 times a week - you should log in 4 times a week.
  • Set up a discussion or wiki in which students can ask general questions not related to the subject matter. You can call it the Question & Answer Room, the Watercooler, etc. Give clear directions to the students that this is the location for conversations unrelated to the course materials. Encourage students to answer each others' questions.
  • Front-load your course with "low stakes" assignments or activities such as a syllabus quiz or introduction forum so that students can get used to the technology.
  • Think outside the box when grading assignments - use a technology like Screencast-O-Matic (a free online screen and audio capturing software) or Camtasia to record yourself talking as you grade a student's assignment. They will receive visual as well as audio cues and it makes the feedback more personal.
  • Communicate with your students often through announcements, tweets, emails, etc. so that they know you have a presence in the course and the expectations for participation are clear.