In the 2010 study, Students’ Perceptions of Effective Teaching in Higher Education by faculty from the Memorial University of Newfoundland, it revealed some interesting expectations students have for their teachers in distance learning classes. The nine main characteristics, in order of importance, are as followed:

  1. Respectful
  2. Responsive
  3. Knowledgeable
  4. Approachable
  5. Communicative
  6. Organized
  7. Engaging
  8. Professional
  9. Humorous

I will focus on the second characteristic, Responsive.  I taught distance learning (DL) classes for 14 years (this year I have a traditional class). Technology has changed the way teachers and students communicate, especially with DL classes and online courses. Through those changes I developed three recommendations for meeting the students’ expectation of responsiveness without feeling like you are teaching 24/7.

Recommendation One: Set and stick to a time limit for answering emails. At the beginning of the semester I set the time limit to 24 hours. Yes, that includes the weekends. If I have a special event going on, like a birthday, I inform the class that emails won’t be answered until Sunday night. Emails usually don’t need immediate attention, so 24 hours is a fair timetable.

Recommendation Two: I have “Digital Hours” for my classes. Most of the time it is Tuesday and Thursday night from 9:00 to 10:30 p.m. This is when I answer questions, give feedback on essays or projects, or get a student caught up on lessons they have missed. The tool you use for digital hours is not important. It could still be email; the students would know that an answer would be immediate. Many learning management systems have a chat option embedded in the course that you could use to be available for those hours.

Recommendation Three: Have the right tone. Try to make sure your responses, email or chat, are clear and reflect respect. Just like a real conversation, we can get ahead of ourselves and say the wrong thing. I always make sure my emails start with a greeting. I also try to reflect back their concern before my answer. That way they know what I think they are saying. In the chat environment it is easy to respond without thinking. Take thirty seconds before responding, especially if a wave of frustration hits you. I don’t know how many times I have said, “I covered that in class,” in some form when answering questions from students. I always try to direct them to that resource in the LMS in my response.

You don’t have to be connected 24/7, spending all your free time answering emails or being available on your LMS. But developing your own guidelines for communicating with your students will help in meeting their expectations while keeping the class running smoothly.

This article has been update from a 2010 post.


About jboelhower

I am a husband and a father. I have been in the field of education for over 20 years.
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