Recommendation 3.2: Expectations for Communication
State your expectations for student-instructor communication so students understand when and how to contact you for different kinds of questions.
Synopsis from Self-Review
When developing your communication policy, clearly state expectations for office hours, announcements, Q&A forums, email, and other forms of student-instructor communication. Provide clear avenues for students to pursue help and specify where to direct different types of questions. Remember that students are learning different approaches used in each of the courses they are enrolled in. Being consistent and making your expectations clear can therefore really help students succeed.
How to Put Into Practice
Courses of different sizes and structures may require different modes of communication, but all will benefit from a carefully planned and clearly articulated communication policy. Clarify how students should reach out with questions, how you will share updates and reminders with the whole class, and how students can make the best use of office hours.
Handling Student Questions
Use a Forum: What role will direct student-to-instructor communication play in your course vs. the use of a Q&A forum? Large classes in particular can benefit from employing a forum like Canvas Discussions to field course questions. If you use this approach, students are able to answer each other’s questions, see answers to common questions, and see instructor clarifications and endorsements. This allows you to participate in course community building without needing to answer similar questions multiple times.
Set response time expectations: Let students know how quickly they can expect a response to their questions and whether you will be available outside regular business hours. This can help prevent excessive follow up questions and also helps students plan. If they need an answer about a particular assignment, for instance, they need to reach out to you more than 48 hours before the due date to ensure a response.
Sensitive Issues: Be sure to have a private way for students to reach out if they have sensitive issues to discuss. If, for instance, you are using a course-wide forum for Q&A, also supply an email for students to use when asking questions of a more personal nature (e.g. need for accommodations, communicating a family emergency, etc). Be ready to redirect them to the open forum if you receive questions that are of a more general nature.
Provide Help and Support: For any tool other than standard email, include orientation materials to help students navigate the tool successfully.
Communicating with the Whole Class
- Rhythm: Establish a regular, predictable rhythm of communication to your class. Remind students of upcoming deadlines, share resources, communicate any changes to the course schedule, etc. This helps students manage their time effectively and maintains engagement over the semester. Canvas Announcements offer an easy way to build this into your course site.
- Frequency: Set expectations for how often students check for updates. Make it clear to students that they are responsible for staying up to date on course information by checking their email or Canvas site for course communications on a regular basis.
Managing office hours
- The time and web conferencing tool for office hours should be prominent in your communication plan.
- Include examples of the type of questions students might ask or conversations they may have with you during office hours. Many students assume they should not reach out if they do not have a specific content question, not realizing that office hours can be a time to review study strategies, get to know their instructor, and discuss plans for their professional future.
- If offering office hours on a sign-up basis, consider using the Canvas Scheduler tool to streamline student scheduling.
- Canvas has many tools that support course communication, including Announcements, a secure Inbox, and a Scheduler. Let students know how you intend to use these so students can make the most of them.
- Piazza is an alternative Q&A forum that may be particularly valuable in larger classes. For a general introduction, see the UW Madison Piazza overview and consult these practical tips and examples from UW instructors.
- Introduce students to common Learn@UW tools with Canvas student tech module templates you can include with your course orientation materials.
- You may also want to explore recommendations for Success Factor 3.3: Maintaining Presence
What is this?
A course communication policy clarifies where students can get help and sets expectations about the use of course communication tools and instructor response time.
Why is this important?
With so many communication tools available and different approaches used by different instructors, it is important to let students know how to successfully and appropriately communicate with you. Stating and modeling these expectations helps motivate students to engage in the course; it encourages them to be more autonomous and can spare you answering the same questions repeatedly.
Where is this?
A communications policy can be included in a course orientation module, on your Canvas homepage, or in a Day 1 Canvas Announcement. Encourage students to follow it by referring directly back to it in your responses to students questions.
Success Factor 3: Instructor-Student Interaction
The course is designed to include regular and substantive interaction and communication between student and instructor. Regardless of modality, a fully-realized educational experience provides students with ample opportunity to ask questions, receive answers, and obtain feedback and guidance from instructors.