Engaging and Re-Engaging Your Online Students During the COVID-19 Crisis
Resources for Already-Online Faculty
Much attention has been paid to the transition from previously in-person course delivery modes to a Remote Instruction format during the COVID-19 crisis over the last few weeks. What we haven’t been talking about is how this crisis is impacting our already-online students.
Even fully online students might be in need of additional flexibility right now, so the way we respond may need to be adjusted to accommodate for that. To that end, we’ve described three main strategies below for re-engaging students who might have lost their momentum: updated grades (including entering zeroes for missed work), personalized outreach, and whole-class feedback/amnesty opportunities.
Updated Grades – Promoting Self-Regulation with Transparency Accordion Closed
If you’re teaching fully online, you’re probably already doing some or all of these things, but in case you’re not, these are some great steps to take in adding increased transparency and helping students understand how their choices impact their grades AND the progress they’re making in your course. This provides them with a solid foundation for taking responsibility for their own choices and behaviors.
- Entering zeroes promptly after deadlines pass is a great way to communicate to students that they’ve missed assignments, and to show them how it’s currently impacting their grades. In order to use this strategy, you’d need the following in place:
- Gradebook columns for each assignment that are visible to students
- Gradebook columns that show students their current grade – based on all work completed (or missed) to date.
- Include 2 columns. One that shows the current percentage grade and another showing the current letter grade. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to set this up in your BbLearn Gradebook. Use the first set of instructions on the page and select “Percentage” or “Letter Grade” as the Primary Display instead of “Points”.
- Keep grades updated weekly (at minimum)
Keeping students apprised of their current grade helps them understand how their choices impact the grades they earn in your class and allows for students to confidently make adjustments to their behavior in order to earn the grades they want.
Personalized Outreach/Feedback Accordion Closed
This strategy is most effective when it contains a couple of the components listed here:
- Let students know that you are aware of them as an individual AND their academic progress in your course
- Express concern/care for them and/or their progress in the course
- Give specific examples (you’ve missed two assignments/haven’t logged into the course in over a week)
- Offer support (office hours, phone appointment, tutoring, counseling, course materials)
Gently mention any consequences (e.g., how the missed work is impacting their grade)
For larger classes, we recommend using F2S for doing this efficiently and without having to send individual emails to each student who is falling behind. Using this tool, you can send the same message to a group of students about whom you have similar concerns. Here are some examples of message templates you could send to groups of students using the sorting and batch-messaging tools in F2S:
- I noticed that you’ve missed a few assignments last week, and I wanted to check in to see if everything’s OK.
- I’m concerned about your grade because I noticed that you’ve stopped turning in work lately. Do you have any questions or need to use the late work policy to get caught up?
If you’re interested in using F2S, you can review information and tutorials here. The three dropdown menus toward the bottom of the page contain the most practical information and how-to guides. The document available on the Best Practices dropdown also includes specific ways to use the system efficiently for various purposes.
To log into the system, you can visit the F2S portal here.
Smaller Class Sizes
If you’re working with smaller class sizes, or you have a small enough group of students who are in this category of concern, there’s certainly nothing wrong with sending a personal email to each student. Your emails can include specific offers of support based on what you already know about your students as individuals, available academic support, or supportive comments that invite students to re-engage with confidence and without fear of judgment or “being in trouble.”
Whole-Class Feedback/Amnesty Opportunities Accordion Closed
When it’s much of the class, rather than a small cohort of students falling behind, this strategy can really help build community and get everyone back on track. Via email or BbLearn’s Announcements tool, you can send messages to the entire class that contain a little social norming, reassurance for students, and bolster your instructor presence.
This strategy is most effective when it includes a combination of the following components:
- In your all-class message, mention that while some students ARE keeping up with the work, there are a number who’ve gotten behind. This helps students in both situations feel less like they’re “the only one.” It also sets the tone that keeping up is still one of your expectations and that some students are already doing so successfully.
- Express concern AND a desire to help/see students be successful
- Offer a solution for allowing students to get caught up (and also protect your own end-of-semester workflow)
- Anything currently late can be submitted within the next two weeks, but the expectation is that students will keep up from then on
- Students can select X assignments to be submitted late. All of these late assignments must be submitted before XX/XX date (we suggest at least 2 weeks before the semester ends so that you’ll have time to grade the backlog)
- Students who are unhappy with a grade or who missed an assignment, can re-submit/submit an assignment of their choice by XX/XX date.
- All students can submit an extra credit research assignment (that aligns with the learning outcomes and supports students in engaging with missed course materials) due 1-2 weeks before end of term.
The teams at LMS-Faculty-Help@nau.edu and Teaching.Learning@nau.edu will be happy to talk through these strategies and help you choose an implementation plan that works for you. Especially now, when our online students might be struggling with their workloads just as much as our formerly in-person students, we may all need to consider new strategies that support our students.