There is no question. The rapid transition to fully online education due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been an adjustment for everyone- staff, faculty, and students alike. Staff and faculty find themselves asking “how can we best support our students?” For students, the question is, overwhelmingly, “how do I get help when I need it?”
The number one thing we can do? Communicate. When they know they aren’t alone, students can free more energy to focus on their studies during this strange- and even scary- time. Whether your course content is being taught synchronously or asynchronously and what kind of activities to use are certainly important considerations in planning how best to teach your content to students online. The more that students share their experiences with education during the pandemic, however, the more that the availability of communication is raised as the key factor in feeling that they can succeed in their courses.
Luckily, The University of Portland has many methods of communication available which can be leveraged to develop a regular and open method of contact with students.
Regular emails from instructors detailing expectations, updates, or even just a periodic hello so that students know you are engaged and available to them is an easy and familiar way to establish contact with students. A couple of ways to do this quickly and easily using your University of Portland tools:
- Make yourself Outlook email groups containing the students from your courses so that you can quickly and easily reach all members of a course at once instead of having to add each student, each time.
- Utilize the Quickmail option on your Moodle course, which allows you to contact your entire class, or individual students, right from Moodle while you are updating your course page.
As a reminder, if you need to send sensitive information to a student, please remember to encrypt your email to ensure proper security.
Online Chats or Discussions
Another great way to communicate with students is through online discussion forums or real-time chat, which can allow information to freely and organically flow:
- Moodle forums offer multiple ways to have discussions right on your course page, from a general discussion to allowing each class member to post an individual post.
- Microsoft Teams, offered as part of our Microsoft platform, offers the ability to have real-time chats one-on-one or in a small group OR with your entire class in your Group’s channel.
When possible, many students note that being able to see others faces when having discussion can help them to feel less isolated and improve their ability to make connections to content. University of Portland has two main methods of providing video calls and synchronous lectures- Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Teams is available for free to anyone in the University community (our Quickstart Guide provides a good place to learn basics if you’ve never used the program before), while Zoom licensing is available on a limited basis.* For those unable to obtain a full license through the University, a free version is available, which can work well for one-on-one meetings such as office hours (it is important to be aware that there is a 40 minute limit for calls with 3 or more individuals, limiting use for full classes).** Both Microsoft Teams and Zoom have support sites with a wide range of help topics for their platforms, however some good starter articles include the following:
Questions about these solutions or others? ATSI can be reached at email@example.com or x8774.
*As of Fall 2020, Zoom licensing was expanded to the entire university, and Pro accounts are now available free for all users. If you have not yet activated your account you can do so following our Activation Instructions.
** University Pro accounts do not carry a time limit for meetings.