Communicate effectively with your students

Expanded guide: Communicate effectively with your students

Establishing and maintaining clear communication via well-defined communication channels allows students to focus on learning. Even more than in a face-to-face class, students need clear guidelines for communicating with you and for interacting with other students as they navigate your course.

Communicate effectively with your students during remote instruction using these strategies:

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To discuss your unique teaching and technology needs, schedule a consultation with an ATS instructional designer at For questions about pedagogical and teaching strategies, contact the Center for Educational Effectiveness:

    Establish and share a communication plan

    Make a plan to manage your own communication and communicate relevant parts of that plan to your students.

    • Tell students how often they can expect to hear from you with information about the course (e.g., daily, weekly, etc.). A consistent communication schedule that students can rely on will provide some needed structure and help set expectations.
    • Explain to students which channels you will use to communicate with them. Explore the different communication tools available and make strategic choices about which you will use (e.g., Canvas Announcements, Canvas Inbox, email, Canvas Discussions, etc.). You may want to suggest to your students that they update their notification settings in Canvas so that Canvas Announcements, for example, get emailed to them.
    • Plan and communicate to students how quickly you will respond to emails or other communications from them. If your students know that you will respond within 24-36 hours, it is less likely you will receive repeat emails. Make this timeline realistic for your workload.
    • Identify efficiencies that will allow you to answer more student questions. Even though emails to students can be sent at any time, don’t allow them to take up all your time! Rather than responding to lots of individual student emails, figure out ways to find out and answer student questions en masse. This might include weekly Canvas Announcements to the whole class, curating a FAQ as student questions come in, or creating a Canvas Discussion where you, TAs, and students can all respond to student questions.
    • Make a plan for communicating with your TAs. Let your TAs know how frequently you will communicate with them and through which channels. Consider how TAs might be part of the communication cycle with students, in alignment with their responsibilities. Clear communication with TAs helps them understand your goals for the class and ultimately supports student learning. ♦1
    • Technology that supports these strategies: Canvas Announcements, Canvas Discussions, Canvas Inbox, Canvas notification settings, email

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    Explain to students how your course will work during remote instruction

    Explicitly discussing the way your course works will help students navigate your course successfully.

    • Tell students what parts of the class will occur synchronously (live) and/or asynchronously (pre-recorded). If instruction is happening synchronously, be sure to include the time zone your class will occur in since students may be remote in different parts of the country/globe. Refer your students to the time management advice from other students on the Keep Teaching Student Resources page.
    • Explain how you would like students to interact with course elements (e.g., Zoom and Canvas).  Students may not be familiar with the various technological elements you have adopted for your course, or they may need more information about how you would like them to interact with the course technology and course materials and course materials. Giving students a “roadmap” for each Canvas Module and building predictable structures into your Zoom sessions (and making those structures transparent) can help students interact with your course elements in ways that promote their learning. 
    • Explain how you would like students to interact with each other.  Regularly communicating your expectations around respectful and productive class interactions can help create a safe learning environment for students. This might include establishing course agreements that set expectations for class behavior and/or promoting inclusive language as a shared value and practice. Commenting positively (e.g., “That is a great question”) when students interact in ways that advance collegial discussions of course topics can also help signal to students the types of interactions you want to encourage in the classroom.
    • Proactively determine a communication plan for unanticipated events, such as internet outages, and inform your students of the plan. For example, if your internet goes out during a Zoom session, you can tell them they should look in Canvas Announcements for information about how to proceed. Or if their internet continues to drop during a Zoom session, do you want them to inform you? Should they keep trying to connect for the whole hour-long class, or just try for 10 minutes and then email you? Give your students guidelines for likely scenarios.
    • Technology that supports these strategies: Canvas Announcements, Canvas Calendar, Canvas Modules, email

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    Set expectations with your students about their communication and participation

    Clear guidelines for communication increase the effectiveness of remote instruction.

    • Tell students how you would like them to contact you (e.g., email, Canvas Inbox).
    • Encourage students to check course resources for answers to their questions before contacting you (e.g., syllabus, FAQ, Canvas Discussion). Let them know they will often get their answers more quickly this way.  
    • Establish behavioral norms for participation in live Zoom sessions and for all course communications. These could include using respectful language and preferred names and pronouns. These could also include Zoom-specific practices such as staying muted during Zoom meetings, raising your hand to speak, and using the chat to ask questions. If your class is interactive, also explain Zoom-specific practices for interactive portions of your class.  
    • Technology that supports these strategies: Canvas Announcements, Canvas Discussions, Canvas Inbox, Zoom Chat, Zoom setting, email 

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