11 Communication

In an online environment, some students may have expectations for turnaround time on their questions and assignments that you as an instructor may find unrealistic. Ensure that everyone has the same set of expectations by placing a guideline in your syllabus that specifies both how you would like to be communicated with (some instructors prefer direct emails, while some prefer the Inbox tool in Canvas, which allows you to organize all student communications in one spot), and the timeframe by which you (or your TA) commit to getting back to them.

Consider creating a workflow in which you return communication on individual student questions (e.g., within 48 hours) and that you return feedback on shorter assignments (e.g., within 7 days of the due date). In the case of larger assignments (e.g., final projects), longer turnaround time may be needed; in such cases, let students know when to expect completion.

Some considerations regarding how your students will communicate with you and with the teaching staff include:

  • When a student contacts the instructor via email, what are some formatting or procedural guidelines?  For example, should the student always indicate the class and section in their email? Should they also copy (cc:) your TA? (Note: if you have students communicate with you via Canvas, Canvas will capture their course number and section automatically.)
  • Do you prefer students to post class questions in a “Class Questions” discussion forum instead of individual messaging? (Note: this practice can save you time in having to answer the same question individually multiple times.)
  • When will you check emails?  Are you available on the weekend?
  • What role will the TA have in communication (if applicable)?

Canvas provides multiple ways for you to communicate with students, such as Announcements, Discussions, Inbox/Conversations. All of these are governed by individual users’ Notification settings. For more information on the technical skills required to use these Canvas features, see http://it.umn.edu/canvas.


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Guidelines for Online Teaching and Design by TeachingSupport@UMN.edu and Faculty Development for Online Teaching task group is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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