By Hannia Arshad, Schulich Student Online Course Design Consultant.

Hannia is a BBA candidate entering her third year of studies at the Schulich School of Business. As an undergraduate student, Hannia has held many community-oriented and leadership positions. She incorporates her experiences to curate content intended for the deployment of online learning in Fall 2020.

Communication is Key to Success

Communication is an essential aspect that guarantees a course’s success. By connecting students with each other and by creating a feedback loop between students and instructors, instructors will be able to mitigate the challenges associated with the transition to remote/online learning.

As classes move online, students may miss opportunities to interact with their instructors and fellow peers. Some students may find it difficult to socialize and create a sense of community. This increases the pressure of remote/online learning where students may perceive a loss of support without face-to-face interactions. An remote/online environment requires instructors to ensure there are active lines of communication among students and the instructors. By connecting students with each other and answering questions in a timely manner, instructors can alleviate the alienation students may experience in a remote/online classroom environment.

Connecting Students With Each Other

Discussion Forums: Building Communities

Instructors can make use of Canvas’ discussion forums to help familiarize students with each other. These discussion forums can be utilized outside of the academic context, where students are free to socialize. At the start of the course, encourage students to introduce themselves in an icebreaker forum. Asking them to share their hobbies, interests, and thoughts on the course can help them develop an understanding of one another. Furthermore, discussion forums regarding specific assessments would encourage students to ask and answer questions amongst each other. This can be useful in the case where an instructor is unable to be reached. This also ensures students have the option to discuss assignments with their peers, increase their knowledge regarding the course content, and understand the level they should be performing at to succeed in the course.

Study Buddies: Improving Peer Relationships

For some students, the idea that their posts on Canvas are public to instructors and the remainder of the class may deter them from actively participating on discussion forums. To ensure students can connect with one another, instructors could assign them “study buddies” using the “Group Set” tool under the “People” tab on Canvas. This tool can split students into a desired number of groups. After assigning study buddies, students may be encouraged to exchange contact information and discuss course content with each other in a private messaging application, such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. This builds a connection between students who are unable to socialize as they normally would in a physical classroom.

Connecting Instructors with Students

Frequently Asked Questions: Focusing on the Important Topics

In an online class, instructors can expect to receive double the number of questions they would normally receive in a face-to-face class. As a result, managing student questions can become time consuming. By creating a FAQ page, instructors can regularly update common student inquiries with their answers and direct students to this page. This ensures the same questions are not flooding the instructors’ emails and students receive answers near time-sensitive events, e.g. an assignment due date or examination. A FAQ page can be created by either uploading a document as a file onto Canvas, editing and re-uploading it each time a question must be added, or by adding a “Page” under a module on Canvas. Pages include a text-editor and can directly embed images and links. These pages can be updated as needed and optionally notify students each time an edit is made. A FAQ page can be placed under a “Resources” module to be easily accessible to students and ensure they receive the answers they need to succeed.

Office Hours: One-on-One Interaction

Office hours are a necessary time for students to connect with instructors regarding specific problems. These hours can be hosted through Zoom as drop-in sessions. Here, the “waiting room” feature will allow students to “line up” and interact with the instructor one-on-one. Professors may record their office hours to document exceptional problems and their solutions – with the consent of the student – and share them with the remainder of the class. Instructors who may wish to limit the time spent with each student may make use of Canvas’ “Scheduler“, which allows students to book a time slot to interact with the instructor. This ensures all students are given an equal opportunity to ask their questions and the instructor is aware of the number of students they will be interacting with in a day.

Ensuring Success

Connectivity among students and with instructors will ensure students are able to communicate their thoughts and concerns. Instructors will be able to address such concerns through accessible channels and students will be able to discuss problems amongst each other. By developing a sense of community and providing accessible and effective communication channels, online/remote courses will become increasingly manageable and successful.

To work directly with one of Schulich’s Student Online Course Design Consultants or Developers, contact