Setting Expectations & Connecting with Students

Given the new and unusual circumstances created by the pandemic, and the change to learning scenarios that are either online or in-person with remote access, you and your students will need to be patient, and flexible in co-creating a learning community. If you are new to teaching and learning in an online or in-person setting with remote access, the environment you will be sharing with your students may feel strange at first.

The concept of presence in online teaching can help guide your actions and decisions.

Learn more about presence in online teaching

Student learning, sense of belonging, and satisfaction are tied to three elements described by Garrison, Anderson & Archer's Community of Inquiry Framework: “teaching presence,” “social presence,” and “cognitive presence.” 

  • Teaching presence “is the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the realization of meaningful learning”
  • Social presence “refers to the ability to perceive others in an online environment as ‘real’ and the projection of oneself as a real person,” and 
  • Cognitive presence “is the extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse” (Huang, et al. 2018)

The following tips can help you support presence through establishing clear expectations, promoting a sense of connection, and setting up structures to help students learn.

Connecting with Students

  • Lead with kindness and patience. The coronavirus crisis will affect students. The rapid changes to the social structures of our lives may make it hard for students to concentrate and stay focused. The Learning Strategies Center has many resources available for students. Supporting mental health is important at this time, and demonstrating hope and compassion can go a long way. 
  • Let students know you are flexible and understanding, and ask for their understanding as well. Tell students that you will work with them to solve any challenges they may face, and include this message in your syllabus.
  • Help students connect with each other. An icebreaker activity can help warm up the online space and orient students to the new environment. Zoom breakout rooms are a good tool for small group work.

Setting Expectations

  • Create a communication plan to let students know where to find course updates (Canvas announcements) and where to ask questions (Canvas discussions). Let students know how to reach you (through Canvas Conversations, email, or Zoom office hours) and when they can expect a response (for example, within 24 hours).
  • Share the structure of the course. Explain to your students how you will maintain course components and how things will shift in the online space. Update your syllabus and share it via Canvas.
  • What’s the easiest way to take attendance? Zoom keeps a record of participants, their join and end times and the duration of time they spent in a session.
  • Think about how you usually help students get settled in, and reframe these strategies for learning remotely. Consider shortening your synchronous meeting time and asking students to write a brief reflection or complete a short assignment in Canvas. You might offer additional time to talk with you via online office hours.
  • Anticipate technical delays and challenges that may occur. Tell students which parts of the course will be synchronous and which will be asynchronous in your syllabus, and share this via a Canvas announcement. 
  • Students may be worried about their grades. Check the university coronavirus website for student updates. Check in with students. Consider using a survey tool (survey template - download the MS Word version, also available in Canvas Commons - requires logging into Canvas), or, if class size allows, check in with students directly during class time. You might ask: 
    • where they are (to get a sense of time-zones and when to offer office hours)
    • what their learning environment is like (are they able to access course materials online, do they have consistent online access, what device will they use to take the course, are they sharing a computer, do they have privacy, do they have concerns)
    • what you can do to best support their learning
  • Build in feedback mechanisms. When writing feedback for students, provide more context as students will have less opportunity to speak with you.

Time zone considerations

If students are in a different time zone, university policy is that they may only be required to attend if the class falls between 8:00am and 10:30 pm their time. If you offer optional assignments or meetings for those in other timezones, and they choose to attend in off-hours (their time), they may do so, but accommodations must be made so they do not have to attend class or complete assignments during off-hours.

To make content available for students unable to attend at the scheduled class meeting time, some options include:

  • recording all lectures and make them available online, then confirming students’ comprehension and engagement by assigning short quizzes or reflection questions or asking them to submit discussion points or questions of their own (Students might be asked to submit written or recorded oral responses)
  • grouping your students attending from a different time zone into one discussion session and having them meet as a group and submitting written reflections after their discussions (Depending on the size of your class, it might be helpful for students to take advantage of the Learning Strategies Center’s platform for finding study partners and their study group tips)
  • making yourself available through office hours that are accessible in relevant time zones and using these meetings as substitutes for discussion sections

 For further ideas, contact the CTI.

Considerations for international students

  • International students may have additional concerns (such as time zone differences or government sanctions blocking technology providers).
  • Offer options for accessing your course or completing assignments. Some students may not be able to use the Google Suite (including Cornell Cmail) or Zoom outside of Canvas (sanctioned countries). The university website recommends sending Canvas announcements or using Canvas Conversations to email students. If you schedule your Zoom meetings within Canvas, students can access them through Canvas.
  • Help international students who speak English as an additional language by:
    • providing both written and oral instructions. If possible, provide an overview of your lecture and the questions you will include within it
    • asking students to take a minute to write a response, for speaking activities, before they talk with you or with peers in a Zoom breakout room.
    • offering options for demonstrating learning, and be flexible (office hour times, assessment questions and due dates, social gatherings, groups)