1. TLT Ideas for Improving Faculty-Student Contact

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Table of Contents for "Seven Principles Collection of TLT Ideas"

The first of the seven principles is 'encouraging faculty-student contact.' Chickering and Gamson wrote that, according to decades of educational research, "frequent student-faculty contact in and out of classes is the most important factor in student motivation and involvement. Faculty concern helps students get through rough times and keep on working. Knowing a few faculty members well enhances students' intellectual commitment and encourages them to think about their own values and future plans." In what ways has technology been used in your courses and at your institution that makes such contact between you and your students more productive, satisfying or frequent?  Please send us ideas to add to this page (Once you submit this form, you'll instantly see not only your idea but all others submitted by people who previously filled it out.)

E-mail correspondence with students,

  • I would have to say that I think email has been the biggest boon and blessing. My students DEFINITELY ask me questions more often and at better times than was true otherwise, depending upon the "note in the mailbox," or office hour contact possibilities. I have students that just generally update me on how they are doing -- not necessarily contacting me to report problems. Further, I also have students who are forwarding events and happenings that are of interest to the coursework -- information that I can share with the class at large very easily via email. The extended ability to reach and maintain contact via this function is very useful.
  • I am a staff member, completing an M.Ed. degree at Westminster College (Utah) and have had positive experiences with professors encouraging faculty-student contact via email and Web CT. The key point to make is that it was their timely responses to my emails that made this successful and valuable. I was able to check in with them, submit papers, etc. electronically when it would have been difficult to have to meet with them on campus. Web CT allowed for student and instructor feedback outside of class.
  • I find that my students ask me questions much more often about the assignments than they use to because they can do it through email. Sometimes students talk to me like their friends, i.e. "Have a good day" due to the conventions of a polite correspondence. These simply gestures enhance the relationships.
  • Students seem very comfortable discussing problems in this manner, especially sensitive or embarrassing issues.
  • I have created an account on Yahoo that students can use to send me e-mails from. This way I do not know their identity and allows them to speak their mind.
  • Email is a great way to communicate with even shy students. (See also Principle 7: Respecting Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning)
  • Email is the most common means of increasing faculty/student contact. Students are much more likely to ask questions or initiate contact if it only means sitting at their computer rather than arranging a time for a face-to-face meeting.
  • We have several computer class rooms where students can be exposed to building models and solving using software packages. Many times even Excel can provide the required tool. In courses such as Computer Simulation student email their model which may be having problems. Instructor can run the model and point out the errors and respond via email. In my courses, traditional office hours are used for project definition, etc. However, email is making it easier for the students to contact faculty at the time they need to provided instructor can respond within a reasonable time. I guarantee (unless I am out of town) less than half day response time.
  • Email is a very effective way to communicate with students. Advisees often contact me to set up appointments or ask questions. Often advisees will seek help with their personal statement on applications for graduate or professional school. The students and I exchange drafts of their personal statement. In this way I can edit their writing and make suggestions which may improve their application. Sometimes I have students email their assignments to me rather than turning in a paper copy.
  • For me, sending short positive messages makes the entire mentor/student relationship more meaningful.
  • The most frequently used technology at our institution, as is the case at many others, to facilitate contact between students and faculty is e-mail. Many faculty, including myself, also use group messaging, list serves, or other advances such as blackboard. Personally, e-mail has been a very convenient and successful tool to disseminate information on a group and personal level.
  • When corresponding with students about deadlines in a distance learning course, be sure to mention the exact time and time zone of the deadline, if any of your students are distant enough to be in more than one time zone. - Stephanie Sutcliffe, Drexel eLearning.

Keeping in Touch with Students as They Develop

  • In a class on group dynamics, students journal weekly and reflect on their thoughts and feelings about the class sessions. The instructor responds to each student's journaling weekly as well.
  • One technique some of our faculty have used with the discussion board is to send an individual email to each student several times in a semester that draws upon the work the student has submitted and his/her posts to the class discussion board. This can also be used to encourage students who may not be participating much to rejoin the class. This demonstrates to the student that the faculty member is paying attention and cares about the students' intellectual ideas and personal class experience.

E-mail can help maintain a lasting bond

  • Email has been important for my students to contact me about class questions but also a way to keep in touch after the course is finished.

Hints for making e-mail work even better

  • Having students include the word URGENT in the subject line when they need a quick response (with penalty for inappropriate use).
  • I often email a group of students to remind them of special events, deadlines, information or even just to offer some (hopefully) inspirational anecdote.
  • My students have my school as well as home e-mail addresses. I have theirs, too.
  • Use listproc (e-mailing list) to disseminate information to students
  • Some academics are concerned about the time-consuming nature returning emails and find discussion forums better for one-to-many correspondence.
  • Using email alert on my office computer, anytime a student sends me a question or discussion point, I'm alerted immediately, and time allowing, I can respond instantly. Also, a class chat-room exists for each of my classes, and the students are allowed to discuss amongst themselves the topics of the class.
  • I also maintain an online bulletin board called "News and Notes" which students are to refer to between class sessions. Anytime a student sends a question to me that may concern others also, I send an individual response to the student but also post the response in News and Notes for that week. All students are reminded to check there between sessions and especially whenever questions arise about an assignment. The additional detail is also added to the online syllabus itself. That way, the next time the course is offered, directions for that assignment will have been improved.
  • Sending personal notes of encouragement when they've written a particularly thoughtful response on a bulletin board
  • I like to email an encouraging message once a week, and often include a joke - I try to keep them very neutral, but humor can really help establish a group identity.
  • We are a laptop campus to student access to the instructor through email is very common. The fact that we all have standardized email addresses makes students and faculty easy to find. We also have no limit on the size of attachments so students can send faculty and vise versa large PowerPoints, audio and video files. We have found Blackboard an excellent tool for bringing students (on and off campus) together with discussions, easy contact, and better organization of group work. About 60% of our faculty use blackboard and almost 100% of our students experience it in at least one of their courses.
  • Just recently I was speaking with an overseas tutor and they mentioned videoconferencing  as a way to encourage staff-student contact.  They were concerned that without the face-to-face "feel," students can feel somewhat dislocated. Nothing beats a friendly face!  As verbal communication is only a small part of how we communicate generally, the more MULTI media is, the better and more real the interaction.

Improving office hours

  • I use online chat hours to stay in touch with my online students.
  • Use Doodle, a web-based service, to help schedule appointments with each of a large group of students.

Getting to know students

  • The subject [course] web pages may also contain a link to a web-based appointment system, where students may arrange to see staff outside of class hours. This is also used to arrange demonstration and interview style assessment procedures. [Monash University, Australia]
  • Speaking from an "on line" perspective, we encourage our instructors use video to introduce themselves to those students to put "the face to the name". Or at least, at a minimum, use a digital picture. Editor�s Note: the same technique can be useful in on-campus classes, especially larger classes.

  • Including photographs of me on the online course.

Keeping in touch with students on internships

  • While students are completing three month internship experiences far from the university, they have the opportunity to e-mail the instructor/fieldwork coordinator at least monthly. They are given a set of reflective questions to answer. In addition, they have the opportunity to interact in an on-line discussion group where they compare experiences and ask advice of the instructor and each other.

E-mail to link students, faculty and others (e.g., librarians)

  • We use email addresses for both faculty and librarians after instructional sessions to encourage contact and asking questions and further subject/topic inquiry. Many faculty use web-based courseware with built in ways to discuss and communicate.
  • We created a ghost account on Blackboard to which we have all physics faculty and students enrolled. This will allow us to communicate with the entire department.

Telephones and Voice Mail

  • Telephones and answering machines are on every faculty desk in our department, facilitating students' leaving messages and faculty phoning students.
  • Cell phone messaging (SMS).  
  • In an online class, it is okay to call a student on the phone!  So many online instructors think the communication is purely limited to online only... (Tina Rettler, Wisconsin Technical College System)

Connecting with Faculty and Other Experts Elsewhere

  • Videoconferencing was used to teach a "Master Class" where Wheaton music students participated with Master Trombonists and other students of the instrument in geographically dispersed locations.
     

Making it easier to submit assignments

  • network file servers for students turning in assignments with instructor access,

Feedback on assignments

  • In some cases, I find myself using the "comment" feature in WORD to respond to student work electronically. I particularly like to do this when students are working on resumes, fellowship applications, and other high-stakes writing projects. They rarely give me much time for feedback, so I turn around their work very quickly but still give them targeted, detailed response that they can use or ignore, as they see fit.
  • I have developed interactive learning and teaching websites which involve students completing tasks that support lectures and tutorials, online. Students are able to comment, ask questions about this work. Lecturers/academics are able to view student work, annotate, read comments and reply to students. Students report a high level of satisfaction, they enjoy the regular weekly work, and the contact with staff. (also relates to Principle IV - Feedback)

E-mail as part of a strategy for teaching a course rich in faculty-student contact

  • The first assignment--given at the first class meeting for every course--is to send an e-mail to the instructor describing the student's previous experience with...whatever the principle course content covers. It is my goal to consider, respond to (and file in a course folder) all of these first messages within 24 hrs of receiving them. This accomplishes several goals: 1.verification that the instructor is accessible and cares about your learning as an individual--beginning wherever you presently are on the learning curve. Involves each student immediately in the course. Establishes that the student has an e-mail account, knows how to use it, and will respond to in-class requests. Provides me with an accurate current address for contacting each student without the error possibilities of completing an information form, transferring the information, etc. Determines a baseline for student perception of prior knowledge of course content.
  • Technology has improved 1:1 contact in my [distance learning) courses. Each Registered Nursing (RN) student lives in a different community and often different state. RN's tend to be a collective subculture, needing supportive and encouraging communication from not only the professor, but their colleagues. After four years of Internet experience with this group and 6 years of classroom, I can see the advantages with communication by technology in 1) improved writing skills, and 2) their ability to own their own thoughts and expressions. Discussion groups (5-6 in size for some, 15 students in others) are used. A 1:1 conference is planned between professor/student once at the beginning of the course, to help students with their synthesis project. The most important method of communication has been individually checking in by email with each student. I post a "What's New!" and also provide group feedback on assignments-what I saw in everyone's last assignment that was effective, what expectations I have, what needs to be considered next time for improvement. The most important thing we can communicate to these students is community cohesiveness vs competition, expectation and lots of feedback.
  • E-mail has proven to be an efficient and non-threatening way for me to communicate with students and advisees. In most cases, my advisees have been in my writing classes, so the communication avenues established for classes are extended and embellished in advising relationships. Our in-house web conferencing software ("Caucus") provides an informal, asynchronous place for my students to discuss among themselves and send queries to me. I set up a new conference for each course, and membership is limited to those enrolled. No one has to worry about an outside audience, which means that the discussion is full of intellectual shortcuts we have developed in the classroom and employed or invented on line.

Use of the Web to strengthen face-to-face contact

  • My schedule is posted on my web page, so students can check there to see when I am available and when I am not available.

Lists of class members, advisees online

  • Easy access advisee and class e-mail lists through our course web site give ease to quickly sending notes off to class members.
  • In our Japanese language classes, each student meets with an instructor and a TA individually two to three times a week so that the instructor or the TA can assess the student's learning and the student can ask questions. In order to make time for this, such things as mechanical drills etc are done by technology.

Other Strategies to Increase Connectedness

  • Including jokes related to the topic, or cartoons, again, to increase the feeling of being connected
  • Streamed/archived videos, mainly, although this is one-way communication--- at least the students see and hear the instructor rather than simply read instructions for assignments

P.S. Context can make a difference - compare these responses from different institutions

  • Students are encouraged to contact us through e-mail, very few actually use e-mail, probably due to not having a computer at home, they come to the college to use the computer.
  • Because all students and faculty have laptop computers and all classrooms, offices, dorms, library are wired (or have wireless connections), students check email frequently. As a result, email is a great way of increasing communications between myself and my students. It provides a quick way of answering short questions and setting up appointments for longer questions.
  • We currently use Blackboard, a course [management system]. I feel that Blackboard allows the student to feel a stronger tie to the professor by having 24/7 access.

Please send us ideas to add to this page (Once you submit this form, you'll instantly see not only your idea but all others submitted by people who previously filled it out.)

Return to Table of Contents for "Seven Principles Collection of TLT Ideas for Improving Teaching and Learning"

 

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