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30 April 2020

Making connections with and between students online

While the shift to wholly online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic was sudden and unexpected, some of the key learnings from the transition continue to be relevant to our current teaching and learning practices. In early 2020, a panel of Deakin educators and students talked about strategies they had found to work well to develop learning relationships online during the transition to teaching online. 

Strategies to support connection online 

  • Phone students who aren’t connecting: Phoning students was found to elicit more questions than simply inviting students to phone or email teachers. It enabled teachers to address problems, particularly around assessments, and encouraged students to make further contact. First year students benefited especially from this strategy. 
  • Post short, friendly videos: Posting a video to explain clearly how the unit is going to work online, inviting questions and explaining expectations helped ease students into the new online mode. Posting weekly short videos with encouraging memes or messages along with instructions for the week’s work reassures students that teachers were prepared and able to help. 
  • Develop a ‘buddy’ system: Setting up a buddy system to connect more students who are more confident in the online space with those who are less so can be a useful strategy. It also encourages less confident students to participate more online. 
  • Utilise social media: Setting up or encouraging social media such as Twitter hashtags for the unit, creating unit Facebook or Teams sites helps students connect informally around unit work. Not all students like using unit discussion forums and email. 
  • Keep videos and mics on: Asking students to keep their videos and microphones on in online classes encourages a more natural flow of conversation and sense of an engaged community. It also reduces the temptation for students to do other things during a session.  
  • Show you’re human, and keep trying: Trying different platforms and posting videos that show your human side sends a message of ‘safe failure’: that it’s OK to operate out of your comfort zone and that ‘we’re all doing our best’. 
  • Design for active online learning: Units designed for online ‘Cloud first’ learning working well for all students. They feature weekly ‘chunked’ content and opportunities for students to check and discuss their learning each week. Students left without direction and tasks to complete each week can tend to procrastinate over big tasks. 
  • Scaffold technologies: Recognising students may not be confident on certain technologies and platforms is important. While a certain level of familiarity with online platforms is expected, supporting students who are less familiar to learn to use these tools is vital. 

Revisit the presentation 

You can watch the recording of the event and download an accessible transcript of the discussion. 

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