Before your course starts, a helpful practice would be to send out an email to students to let them know about the mode of technology that you will be using. For many students, it may be the technology piece that is causing them anxiety (particularly if they haven't anticipated taking an online course).
Keeping this in mind, respect the differences in technological comfort and keep the main content of your online course and your communication accessible for the least technologically savvy student.
Students new to online learning may initially find this kind of learning disorienting without the physical classroom space and guidance from the physical presence of a teacher. Other students may initially misperceive learning online as “easier” than learning in a physical classroom space. However, students may find the workload in an online course heavier because they must cover course material on their own and type their discussion comments.
There are a number of suggestions for how to help prepare students for online learning in that initial email (Poe & Stassen, n.d.):
Explain the differences in learning online versus learning in a traditional classroom:
For example (an example of how to participate in a discussion board activity given by an instructor from the University of Massachusetts):
How much to post, and what makes a "good" post? These are hard questions to answer because discussions are organic, developing and evolving depending upon what is said by whom. . . In general, posting only once is not enough to really engage in a discussion. I am expecting probably 3-6 posts depending upon the amount of time I've allotted for the discussion and how in-depth your posts are. . . What I expect and hope to see is a dialogue evolving, with give and take, back and forth, questions asked and ideas explored like in a face-to-face class discussion. . . So as you post be cognizant that you are engaging in a discussion. Do not post long pages of responses--probably a couple of paragraphs at most, sometimes a sentence or two can be effective, especially if you're asking a question.
For example, One instructor uses the following explanation for the weekly journal exercise. She posts this explanation in every unit to remind students weekly of the assignment: Your journal (click on the journal tab at the top of the screen to access) is the place for you to keep thinking about, wrestling with, exploring the issues we've discussed online. Feel free to add your own day-to-day observations about issues related to our course. Your journal is only read by me. I will never comment on your observations; I only check to see if you've completed the assignment. Length: 1-2 paragraphs Due: Every Friday by 11:59 pm (graded pass/fail, i.e., either you did it or not)
Emphasize courtesy to fellow students. Because students cannot see verbal or visual clues from other speakers, encourage them to be tactful in their responses or include parenthetical clues for humor (, that was a joke>) or emotion (<sigh>).
For example: Our online discussions will be class discussions, meaning the same respect we would show each other in an actual classroom, we will also show in a virtual classroom. In fact, because the online environment is primarily a verbal environment where we communicate through writing, it lacks the physical and auditory clues that accompany face-to-face discussion, which may lead to more misunderstandings, particularly when a person is using humor. But being polite and respectful does not mean that you can't disagree or question each other's interpretations of our texts. But be sure to do so in a polite way, rather than "I think you're wrong and here's why" write instead, "Samir, I think you are saying Y [paraphrase what person wrote], but I wonder if there isn't another way to look at that same incident. The way I see it, X really happened . . ." etc.
So how once you have the technology piece in place, how do you make those connections with your learners in the online context, to create the conditions for learning?
You can use the same instincts and skills that you have built in your face-to-face classroom experiences. You just need to translate it into an online context.
Check-in with learners: Connect with your learners in multiple ways to get a sense of where your learners are at so that you can meet them where they're at. For instance, you might ask: How are you feeling today? What preconceptions, ideas, assumptions, and concerns do you have about the course? What expectations do you have for me as the instructor? What expectations do you have for yourself as a learner? What expectations do you have about the course itself (content, teaching and learning approaches, etc.)?
Students come to any learning experiences with several unknowns. As the instructor, your role is to facilitate a climate for learning. How might you create a climate for learning? What are some of the considerations to be made in the online environment specifically?
If you are in a synchronous learning environment, here are some non-verbal behaviours that help to create a sense of immediacy and connection to your learners online
These verbal/written tools create a sense of connection to your learners online- whether you are conducting the learning in a synchronous or asynchronous environment.
Use gestures to communicate
Relax your body
Make eye contact
Use intonation and vocal expressions
Use personal examples
Ask questions or encourage student voices in discussion forums
Use student names
Create short videos and post weekly
Ask students how they feel about content and assignments
Arbaugh, J. (2010). Sage, guide, both, or even more? An examination of instructor activity in online MBA courses. Computers & Education, 55(3), 1234-1244. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2010.05.020
Baker, J. (2004). An investigation of relationships among instructor immediacy and affective and cognitive learning in the online classroom. Internet & Higher Education, 7 (1), 1-13. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2003.11.006
Falkowski, P.P. (2015). Creating immediacy in online learning. Adult Development & Aging News. Retrieved from https://www.apadivisions.org/division-20/publications/newsletters/adult-development/2015/04/online-learning
Gorham, 1988: Gorham, J. (1988). The relationship between verbal teaching immediacy behaviours and student learning. Communication Education, 37, (1), 40-53.