Communicating With Students Outside of the Traditional Classroom is More Necessary Than Ever and Technology Offers Many Solutions
Educators have a wide range of tools at their fingertips that can be used for remote communication with students. Social media, virtual meetings, email, instant messaging, web conferencing, blogs and discussion boards all play a crucial role in fostering strong communications between distance learners and teachers in remote classrooms. The addition of proprietary software made for the education and business sectors allows today's distance learners to keep in closer contact with educators and their peers than ever before.
Tips for Fostering Better Remote Communication with Students
Sasha Thackaberry, director of eLearning Technologies at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio, deploys a variety of tools to increase student engagement and interaction with teachers. Several years ago, Thackaberry says, Cuyahoga Community College adopted Adobe Connect to provide virtual office hours for distance learners, and since then the marketplace has become much more saturated with competing products.
Adobe Connect, she says, provides a wide range of engagement and remote communication tools from which faculty can choose that is most effective for their purposes.
“Social interaction and engagement has been a historical challenge in online learning environments,” Thackaberry says. “These tools, particularly the real-time interactions using Adobe Connect and the Web 2.0 tools, enable a more rich engagement and connection to take place virtually, which can be a significant contributor to student success online.”
Another thing to keep in mind, notes Dr. Anthony Edwards, instructor and manager of E-Campus Online Degrees at Tarleton State University in Texas, is front-loading virtual office hours since students typically have much more questions about classes and subject material in the early part of online classes. Edwards uses a variety of Google tools to teach and provide remote communications with his students, including Google Voice and Hangouts. Making yourself accessible in a variety of different formats, he says, lets students choose the method of communication with which they are most comfortable.
“Instructors who use these tools must set ground rules so students know when and how quickly to expect a response,” Edwards says. “Including the ground rules in your syllabus lets students know what to expect.”
Tools for Remote Communications
A closer look at some tools educators are deploying in remote classrooms to keep in closer contact with their students:
Google Apps for Education (www.google.com/apps/education)– Google provides a suite of tools that can foster increased communications with distance learners. Using tools such as Google+, educators can set up private communities where students can communicate, share resources and complete assignments. Using labels in Google+ communities allows posts to be separated into different topics, learning modules or other important categories, Edwards says. Google Calendar allows educators to set virtual office hours so students know exactly when they can grab a slice of their professor's time.
Adobe Connect for eLearning (www.adobe.com/products/adobeconnect/elearning.html) — This Web conferencing platform can be used for Web-based meetings, eLearning and webinars. It can be used with any platform or device, giving educators and students the freedom to use their Android or Apple devices or Windows-based desktop computers for virtual meetings and conferences. Adobe Connect for Web Meetings also lets educators host and present lecture and class material for presentation or student collaboration.
WebEx Meetings (webex.com) — This tool by Cisco lets educators schedule, host and attend meetings with students from any mobile device or tablet computer. Educators can share class material or documents with students via the WebEx Meetings interface, and students can work separately on assignments or collaborate together on projects using the whiteboard feature.
ConnectEDU (www.connectedu.com) — ConnectEDU for advanced education features a variety of different Web-based collaboration and engagement features built into its learning management system, such as work groups, blogs, forums and chat to enhance communications with distance learners. The tools also mirror many of the same technologies that students use on a daily basis.
Social media — Don't underestimate the power social media brings to the classroom. Edwards routinely uses YouTube to record videos for his students that explains course content in detail. Thackaberry uses Facebook to communicate with students about campus-wide issues. Educators can create Facebook pages where students can post comments and questions about assignments and class material and maintain daily contact with teachers and their peers. Twitter posts can be a valuable tool to let students know about changes in virtual office hours or upcoming tests and assignment deadlines.
By using these tools and many others, educators can stay in closer contact with their students and increase student engagement in the virtual classroom.
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