In shifting from face-to-face to online instruction, we lose one significant tool in increasing student success: our class announcements and reminders. When in-person, this “touch base” moment comes easily, effortlessly built into the beginning or end of class. The first slide of every one of my lectures is “Announcements,” listing what is due and when, along with other important information. Moving online, this casual connection is lost unless we deliberately recreate it.
Before I dive into my own tricks, I will note that I teach students ranging from first-years in the gen. ed to graduate students. Like everyone else, I made the crisis transition to online with my Spring students. I also just wrapped up a June term, which gave me a chance to try out a few tactics. The most common feedback I got from students was their appreciation for how I set up the class, both in flexibility and in communicating deadlines.
How to Create a System of Reminders
I use the term “redundant” in the title because it feels redundant as an instructor while you are structuring your class.
Building in reminders as you set up the class
- Layout deadlines in your syllabus. Duh. What I actually mean is write the deadlines in two places: in the description of an exam/assignment and in the calendar in the body of the syllabus.
- Link everything together in your online platform. Organize your class into modules and then link all quizzes, exams, Dropbox assignments, and discussion posts into the specific module so that students can see what they need to do for that particular unit.
- Use the calendar feature of your online platform. At least in D2L, this is just a click in the settings, but it will make a big difference for students, putting all the deadlines together with automatic reminders.
- Add an additional checklist of assignments. In my seminars, I build in a lot of choices. The checklist helps students to know what options they have and what is mandatory. I do the list in Word so that they can print it off if they would like.
Reminding students as you are teaching the class
- Keep the course home page updated. Even though I allow students to work ahead, I keep our course home timed with the module deadlines. When students log in, they can see the week’s tasks.
- Email the class periodically. I do a weekly announcement through email (that also contains any Zoom invitations). In this email, I list the upcoming activities. It also prompts students to email me.
- Use your Zoom sessions. As I discussed in my “Optional Zoom” article, I enjoy teaching more when I get to know students. These sessions are great opportunities to remind and talk about upcoming assignments and the content of the course overall. Like I do in-person, I typically end sessions by asking if participants have questions and how the [INSERT BIGGER ASSIGNMENT] is coming along.
These steps may seem like too much, especially if you have very dedicated students who are only taking classes. I’ve found though that my students need and want reminders of upcoming deadlines. These points of connection also demonstrate that we care that students complete the work and pass the class. While we still miss out on in-person class chatter, at least we can still have reminders, even if we have to work at it.