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On the CAESS: simple tips for helping students succeed

The President's Advisory Council on Academic Excellence and Student Success shares best practices.

By Jeff Hammond and members of the Council on Academic Excellence and Student Success

September 9, 2020

Student Agazi Abay studying on tablet along Cherry Creek bike path.Last week, there was an excellent SIP about how to build community in online learning environments. Fostering a sense of belonging has short- and long-term effects: helping students succeed this semester and motivating them to persist to complete their degree. 

Social Information Processing Theory, developed by Joseph Walther, posits that rich, meaningful relationships are indeed possible in virtual spaces but that they just require more time and consistency.  

Some tips: 

  1. Offer students the opportunity to interact with you in a variety of ways so they can find a method that feels right for them. Some students prefer email, some prefer chat-box functions, and some prefer video conferencing. Remember to add in low-stakes engagement options such as an “Ask the Instructor” discussion board for students who might be hesitant to reach out.  
  2. Let students get to know one another by breaking into small groups for content-based discussions during synchronous class meetings or online discussions.  
  3. Give students their own discussion board in Canvas to allow for informal chatting. 
  4. Make use of the comments box as a touch point. In addition to giving personalized feedback on the assignment, you can ask follow-up questions and offer suggestions for opportunities or resources that might interest the student.  
  5. Send regular class announcements throughout the week. Give students a sense of who you are in your announcements the way you might do in a classroom interaction by sharing personal stories intermixed with class information.
  6. Just pick one change to make and do it! Start small and stay consistent. 

Above all, remember that connecting with students matters even more within virtual environments. When students are not on campus, their time with you online represents their primary connection with MSU Denver. Studies show that students who feel connected to their instructors and university tend to be retained at a much higher rate than those who don’t. Simple, easy additions to your online courses can have a greater impact than you know.

Topics: Academics, Access, Advisory Council, Best practices, Excellence, Retention, Student Success

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