As I have watched the evolution of remote teaching modes from radio to television to videotape to web-based MOOCs, I have remained convinced of the importance carried by the personal connection between teacher and student. It fosters dedication to difficult tasks, pride in success, and trust built on integrity.
At the first class of the semester I have the students fill out 5X7 cards with information to bridge the gap between us: name (including what they prefer to be called), hometown and high school, and major or academic interest. Then I ask them to include two final items I find to be particularly useful. The first is something specific about them individually, such as an interesting vacation taken, musical training they may have, unusual work or hobbies that they do, and likes or dislikes. The second is the name of a teacher, preferably in high school, who had a very positive impact on them during their precollege years, someone they would like to thank. By keeping the stack of cards handy during the semester, I have a ready resource to develop common bonds with the members of the class.
Perhaps the most important step is to learn the names of the students as soon as possible, so one should not not miss an opportunity to do so: a visit during office hours, a conversation after class, or in the process of returning homework papers. Some years ago I would require that the students turn in their test papers directly to me, even in a large class. This allowed me to learn 15-20 new names on each test day. Fortunately the miracle of technology has made it possible for me to get a photo roster of those enrolled even before the semester has begun. It takes only a little bit of time and effort to learn many names, and this tangible, often surprising gesture translates to a lasting link with each student.
“One of the most important elements of teaching is making connections. Connections can be made between the instructor and students, between the students and the course content, and between the students themselves. Connections make learning meaningful.
James Vick provides several strategies for making connections in a traditional classroom, and efforts can be made to do the same in online courses. Making connections between the instructor and students might include sending each student an individual message toward the start of the semester and using student names when providing feedback. Faculty can help students make connections with their classmates by offering whole class discussion boards along with small group live discussion sessions. Using social media with traditional or online classes also enables students to make connections with their instructor, classmates, and the content. Introductory videos, comments on readings, status reports on projects, and notifications about events are just a few assignments that strengthen connections to the course.
Many students do not expect to feel connected in online classes. Planning a few strategies to develop connections can make learning in the class a more memorable and enjoyable experience for everyone.”