Modeling Effective Online Interaction

Let’s return to Managing Your Online Course and examine the tasks related to the first week of class and daily/weekly routines. These include:

  • Making your own personal introduction posting
  • Reviewing the personal introductions your students have made
  • Summarizing the postings for your students
  • Contacting students who have not yet accessed your course
  • Checking class discussion forums
  • Checking class e-mail messages
  • Grading assignments
  • Posting weekly announcements
  • Updating the class schedule
  • Summarizing discussion forum conversations
  • Holding online office hours

Each of these tasks has something in common–they all model and support effective student-faculty interaction. As we discussed in Lesson 1, frequent and timely student-faculty contact is the most important factor in student motivation and involvement, particularly in a distance education environment. Evidence of faculty concern helps students get through challenging situations and inspires them to persevere. Knowing a few faculty members well enhances students' intellectual commitment and encourages them to think about their own values and future plans.

While it is easy to agree that student-faculty interaction is important to successful learning, creating opportunities for those interactions in an online environment can seem challenging to the novice online instructor. Luckily, it isn’t as difficult as one might think! The key is creating a strong teacher presence in your course. Students need to know that there is a real person facilitating their course and supporting their learning. The tasks outlined above go a long way!

Communicating on a Regular Basis

In an online course environment, it is hard to communicate too much with your students. "Silence" is perceived as a lack of caring and strengthens the perception of online learning as a lonely experience. As the tasks listed above illustrate, online instructors should be checking in on their course every day to read and respond to student e-mail and discussion postings, if appropriate. A best practice for online teaching is to

"Establish and communicate to students, early in the course, a regular schedule for when you will be logging in to the course. Normally this is once per business day. Many of the students studying via the World Campus are adult learners who have work and family responsibilities. These students tend to be more active in courses on weekends, so you may wish to also include in your schedule time to monitor courses at least once on weekends." [From Best Practices and Expectations for Online Teaching]

The key to this best practice is to establish and communicate to your students how often they can expect to "see" you in the course. Your students will want to know how long they should expect for you to respond to their questions and input. Providing this information right on your course syllabus and also in the course orientation can help set the stage for successful two-way communications in your course. And if something comes up during the semester that changes your availability, such as travel plans, you will need to communicate that to your students, as well.

Voices of Experience

Let's hear directly from experienced online instructors about strategies they have used to interact with their students! Before clicking on the links below, make sure your computer's audio is enabled.

Matt Weidman: Over-Communicate

Dave Popp: Suggestions for Effective Interaction in Online Classrooms

Jonathan Mathews: Suggestions for New Instructors Regarding Online Interactions

Click here to listen to Jonathan Mathews

Alfred Turgeon: Interactions in Terms of Student Reactions (Interviewed by Larry Ragan)

Click here to listen to Al Turgeon

8 Lessons Learned from Teaching Online (A video from Educause)

This final example comes from Educause, a nonprofit association whose mission is to "advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology." The short video provides a great overview of many of the tips we've discussed thus far!