Importance of Communication

There are several aspects of communication important in courses using technology. First of all, as with any course, it is crucial for the instructor to communication to students several elements of the course:
  1. How will assignments be collected, graded and returned.
  2. What policies are in play regarding attendance, assignments, academic integrity, etc.
  3. What is the faculty member's expectation of how students will perform, communicate and participate.
  4. What can the student expect in return from the faculty member.
  5. How, when and under what circumstances should students contact the faculty member.
  6. What is the preferred method of contact.
  7. What type of help can students expect and how timely will that help be (within 24 hours is a good guideline).
  8. (See our discussion on Making Expectations Explicit for a more thorough discussion on communication of expectations)

Communication, however, should not be a one-way conversation. Students need a voice if they are to be fully engaged in a course--whether traditional or online. That said, there are some unique communication challenges that faculty face when they deliver material online. Research suggests that online students are more likely to become disengaged from a course if they do not have regular and meaningful communication with both their instructor and fellow students (Bajjaly 2005). Creating opportunities for faculty and students to interact relating to the course material is crucial to the success of an online course. Additionally, students need to have opportunities to explore and test their understanding course materials by interacting with other students--outside the scrutiny of the instructor. With these considerations in mind, we list a few strategies for increasing the quality and quantity of communication between faculty and students and among student peers.

Best Practices:

  • Begin the course with introductions, including information about yourself.
    • Let students know why you chose to teach this subject: why is it important to you?
  • Construct communication opportunities that take different learning styles into consideration.
    • Use both synchronous and asynchronous communication methods for this accommodation.
  • Create a discussion forum in Blackboard that allows students to interact with each other socially (Cyber Cafe).
    • And another discussion board where students can ask for help (HELP!).
  • Establish static groups of 3-4 students and require weekly online meetings for discussion of course content.
    • In order to ensure participation, graded assignments may be attached to these meetings.
    • Provide assignments that require students to discuss course material among themselves. This helps them challenge their own beliefs in a smaller, safe, environment.
    • Let the groups decide how they will present information shared in their discussions with the rest of the class.
  • Explain the objectives and anticipated outcomes for communication opportunities.
  • Listen to what your students are saying to each other--and to you--and learn from what they say.
  • Moderate but don't dominate discussion. When possible, hold back, let students discuss, and save yoru comments for the end.


Resources:

Bajjaly, S.T. (2005). Enhancing student/faculty communications in online courses. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume VIII, Number III. Retrieved from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/fall83/bajjaly83.htm.

Goldman, Z. (2011). Balancing Quality and Workload in Asynchronous Online Discussions: A Win-Win Learning Approach for Students and Instructors. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. Vol. 7, No. 2. Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol7no2/goldman_0611.pdf

Honolulu Community College. Teaching Tips Index. Retrieved from http://honolulu.hawaii.edu/intranet/committees/FacDevCom/guidebk/teachtip/teachtip.htm

Illinois Online Network. Communication. Retrieved from http://www.ion.uillinois.edu/resources/tutorials/communication/