Communicating With Students

One of the greatest challenges in teaching a class to thousands of students across the globe is creating some meaningful sense of community, and a sense of connection between instructor and student. Students have shown great initiative here, organizing local study groups and meet-ups, Facebook groups and the like.

What can you do as an instructor to enhance students’ sense of connection and community?

1) Maintain a consistent instructional team presence on the discussion boards.

In prior courses, an absence of visible presence (from the instructional team or Coursera) has contributed to student frustration, particularly with regard to technical troubleshooting.
What is more interesting, and perhaps more important, is to think about ways in which the content questions and intellectual contributions made by students on the discussion boards can feed back into your course.
Given the number of students, it is vital to provide structure to the discussion board, so as to channel their posts productively. Here are two examples of well structured boards.

2) Create Opportunities for Direct Address or Live Interaction with Students

There are a number of ways in which your presentations may be adapted to reflect student input or create interactions with students. In Peter Struck’s Greek and Roman Mythology class, he and his TAs have recorded a number of “Screen Side Chats” in which they take up questions raised by students (as to both course logistics and content). Princeton’s Mitchell Duneier conducted a number of “seminars” with five students at a time using Google+. Al Filreis and his TAs have held several live chats in Modern Poetry, in which the instructional team has fielded student questions by phone and via Twitter, while also engaging with an audience at Kelly Writers House. Michigan’s Charles Severance has held “office hours” whenever he has traveled, and thus met up with Courserans in various American and European cities, subsequently posting videos on his course site. Here are some sample images of discussions from Peter Struck and Al Filreis’ courses.

3) Make Use of Social Media

Students can be encouraged to start Facebook groups for your course. Your TAs may or may not wish to participate. The Facebook group for World Music became a lively place for students to share ideas and music with one another. Numbers of Coursera faculty also have used Twitter to communicate with their classes and individual students. In some cases, this has involved students following the instructor’s existing account (e.g. “Dr. Chuck” Severance at Michigan; Wharton’s Kevin Werbach), or a new account created for the course, such as Al Filreis’s “ModPo”. However brief, tweets can be effective in establishing connections with your students.