Improving Online Communications

This resource will provide suggestions of several ways to help improve online communications with your students. Many of the suggestions outline how to accomplish the tasks in Memorial University’s learning management system (LMS), Brightspace.

How Can I Improve my Online Communications?

Communicating in the online environment can sometimes be a challenge as the visual and audio cues that are present in a face-to face classroom are absent. However, there are several things you can do to promote effective online communications:

1. First and Foremost, Be Present

Although you have likely completed considerable upfront course design and development, your work is not finished. You need to be a visible and active instructor and facilitator in your course. Instructor presence (teaching presence) in an online course is essential!

2. Set a Positive Tone

Write a “Welcome Message” to your students. Place your message:

  • in the Announcements tool (previously called the News tool) located on the Course Home page
  • at the top of the Getting Started section, so it will be the first thing the students see when they enter your course; and/or
  • in an Introductory Discussion

Assure your students that you are available if they have questions or need help.

Note: For information on how to use the various tools mentioned on this page, please see the Brightspace Guides found on CITL’s Technology Resources site.

3. Create Your Personal Profile in Brightspace

Creating a personal profile will help you make a personal connection with your students. Fill in the profile information that you would like to share with others (social networks, contact information, education and work, and personal information, your web site URL). You may upload a picture of yourself (or avatar) if you choose. This will allow your students to actually “see” you, or a representation of you, when using the Classlist, E-mail, or Discussion tools. The profile or About Me screen where you would add this information is often found in the top right-hand corner of your LMS.

4. Create a Clear and Comprehensive Online Syllabus

Creating a clear and comprehensive syllabus for your students is vital, as this serves as the main road map with regards to how things will unfold over the semester. When writing your online syllabus, we recommend that you talk directly to your students; refer to your students as “you”; not indirectly as “the students” or “students.”

Importantly: Include a Course Instructor page in your Syllabus that provides:

  • information about you that you would like to share with your students;
  • biographical information;
  • clear instructions for how and when students can contact you should they require help;
  • times that you will not be available or time frame for your response to email inquiries
  • a photo or avatar (if you choose); and
  • include a section on Netiquette (Online Etiquette) in the Communications section of your online Syllabus to provide students with your expectations as to how they should communicate with you and their peers in your course.

See the following resource about Netiquette.

View the following resource about creating an online course syllabus.

5. Add Visuals to your Content

Adding educational visuals to course content is encouraged to help make content more engaging, explain concepts, or to promote discussions. Examples include graphics, images, timelines, charts and graphs, Venn diagrams, infographics, concept maps, color-coded maps, photos, etc. These can be made by you with graphic design software or photo editing tools. If you would like help creating your visuals you can work with CITL’s Instructional Design or Media Services teams. We encourage use of visual elements in course content with educational purposes in mind, as decorative visuals can be distracting to students. Ensure that you consider copyright law and provide appropriate attributions if using someone else’s creation(s) in your course.

Visit the Memorial University copyright website for more information.

6. Include Video in your Course

Using video in your course helps add a personal touch and is a great way to help communicate your ideas, as it resonates well with and helps to engage visual learners. Video is often used for course introductions, module overviews, demonstrations, animations, providing scenarios or cases, real world simulations, providing feedback, etc.

Generally, long lecture type videos are not optimal in the online environment. Note: Due to online accessibility requirements, videos recordings added to your course require a written script. If your video is lengthy, students will often opt to read the script, as it is faster. Videos that are ~ 2-6 minutes in length (10 minutes maximum) are encouraged, as this is time is the optimal attention span of students. If more needs to be included, please consider splitting your video into two or more sections.

Videos in Brightspace can be created by you and made accessible for your courses through use of the following technologies:

  • Enter Embed Code
  • Video Topic

7. Include Audio in your Course

Audio clips/podcasts are an easy way to allow students to hear the tone of your voice. This helps provide a personal connection with your students; something that is challenging to achieve with written text. Due to online course accessibility requirements, audio insertion must be accompanied by a written script.

Audio clips in Brightspace can be created by you and made accessible for your courses through use of the following technology:

  • Record Audio Tool

Create your own audio clips using Audacity, a free, easy-to-use open source cross platform audio software that that can be used to create your own audio.

Need Help with Video or Audio?
If you would like help creating your video or an audio, you can work with CITL’s Instructional Design or Media Services teams. The instructional design team works with the video production team to create video productions. If you are developing an online course with CITL, video and audio production is facilitated through the instructional designer. If you are teaching on-campus and would like to develop a video(s), please contact media services directly.

8. Use the Classlist/Email Tools Effectively

The internal email tool in Brightspace enables you to send emails to your students without needing an external email address. Internal email (Course Mail) can be accessed from the top of your Homepage by clicking on the email icon. However, it is most easily accessed through the Classlist.

In addition:

  • you can set up Notifications (daily email) to send to your students in Brightspace to remind them when activities and assignments are due and to notify them of any course changes.
  • you can set up Intelligent Agents in Brightspace to monitor login activity, course activity, and release conditions of your course. They can help you assist your students by providing a quick and automated notification when defined activity occurs within a course or when there is lack of login or course entry.

9. Use the Discussions Tool Effectively

The Discussions tool is a place where you and students can participate in asynchronous (not in real time) online discussions. As the instructor, you create the forums and topics and students compose and reply to postings, generally within a specified time frame. Brightspace’s discussions are used in courses to help promote more meaningful discussions and encourage collaboration. Discussions can be used to help build online community and to help students reflect on course content prior to posting or replying to postings.

10. Online Rooms (Virtual Classroom)

Brightspace’s synchronous Online Rooms tool offers many ways to communicate and collaborate with your class or outside guests in “real-time.” You can record your sessions, as videos, to be accessed by students in Brightspace at a later date.

Remember, you can find details of how to implement these approaches and tools in your online learning environment on CITL’s Technology Resources page.

Resource created by Lisa St.C.