Dr. Bruce Kuhlman, CFA, CAIA, Graduate Faculty, Kaplan School of Business
How do you make students feel comfortable and confident in an Internet classroom? There is no physical classroom that facilitates students talking among themselves or with the professor before, during, or after class. When students are spread all over the globe and never physically meet, there is no sense of team as in “we’re all in this together.”
Until recently, my primary approach to this puzzle was using the only real tool we online instructors have: written communication. In the KU College of Business there are discussion board requirements for professors, which specify minimum participation in a set number of days and the number of responses per unit. Rather than aiming to meet the minimum requirements, I try to respond with follow-up questions to all of my students’ posts, including their responses to me and to one another. This is quite time consuming, but the effort is well worth it. The stair-step patterns in my class discussion boards demonstrate clearly that students like it when I am on the discussion boards everyday, usually multiple times per day. They seem to watch for my responses and are quick to reply. The back and forth is wonderful because you know they are paying attention to what you say.
I understand that this sort of thing would be very difficult with undergraduate classes of 40+ students, but the principle is the same. The more students feel connected to the professor, the more comfortable they are expressing themselves in discussion boards and in class assignments. They feel the professor truly has their best interests at heart and is there to help them, not just facilitate the class and grade papers. This also makes them more likely to ask for help when they need it!
It is to this end that I have instituted another practice that seems to increase participation and openness in the online classroom. In my welcome email to students, sent out before the class starts, I provide my telephone number and ask them to call me. I have only done this in two classes so far, and the actual call rate is only about 50%, but talking on the phone seems to have brought us closer together and made the class more personal. I intend to continue this practice and will keep you posted on my progress. If you have something special you do for your students, I would love to hear it!