Direct From the Students: Communication is Key!

Published by Carrie O'Donnell
on Mar 27, 2020

Lately, we’ve been really paying attention to what the college-aged students related to the O’Donnell Learn team are saying about navigating their online classes. Some were already 100% online prior to their college campus closing due to COVID-19, and some were not. But what they’re telling me they need to successfully navigate online learning “in this new normal” is very similar. It’s no surprise that most of what they’re sharing centers around communication, especially with the added stress of everything that changed essentially overnight. Here are the key communication takeaways:

More Often, Less Bulk

Share more often vs. share everything at once. Serve up information in snack-sized portions. Most students are processing multiple classes online and are worried about staying organized.

One of my biggest anxieties right now is feeling like I’m going to forget about a due date now that I’m not seeing my professors every week and being verbally reminded. Kyra O, University of Maryland Baltimore County

My best experience has been when professors have kept us completely informed. For example the two smoothest transitions were both by professors who immediately announced, ‘Give me two days to rethink things.’ Then each sent out a revised syllabus with detailed weekly schedules. They have each also sent immediate updates when something changes. Hagen B, Villanova University

Make it Crystal Clear

Students want to know what the assignment is, when it’s due and what’s needed to get it done. Make sure expectations are clearly stated. In the example below (sourced from my nephew Conor’s gaming course), students have an at-a-glance view of the project goals, tasks and deadline.

Provide an outline at the start of the week with clear expectations for each class day and due dates for assignments. Then keep in touch, even daily. Provide reminders, updated syllabus, highlighted dates. Emily B, Villanova University

Find It Fast

Make it quick and easy for students to find content without a lot of digging through folders and subfolders. Too much searching increases the likelihood of added stress in an already stressful situation. In the example above, all content for the entire week is listed on one page inside each module, with simple links to additional content if needed.

Show Your Softer Side

Students need to know you understand what they’re going through and that you are in this with them.

Acknowledge the human side of this transition. We probably won’t get everything done we’d planned in the next few weeks – which is OK. Knowing our instructors have our backs goes a long way. Kyra O, University of Maryland Baltimore County

From my own point of view, let’s emphasize mastery over assessments. Incorporating interactive online activities helps ensure your students are still grasping the subject matter. And just as important, these will also provide much-need places of human connection and open communication in what might be a newly-virtual environment for many.

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