10 Communication Strategies for Online Teaching

Online teaching–it’s fun, rewarding, flexible, and  . . . can eat up huge quantities of time. In today’s post, I will reveal my online communication strategies.

email monsterWhy would I rather use something else besides email? A very simple answer–it’s not that efficient and wastes valuable time. Email is something that worked in the 1990s, but things have changed since then. We have many ways to communicate instantly to get issues resolved, questions answered. Most of my student messages can be quickly answered without having to (a) read an email, (b) decide how to answer, (c) write it, and then (d) send it.

In order to be efficient and effective, you will need to cut back on the time you spend reading and composing emails and change the ways you communicate and collaborate with your students. Keep in mind that younger students don’t even use email that much. Texting, Facebook, and other communication tools reign supreme with this group. Another good reason to break the email stranglehold.

Barbara’s 10 Communication Strategies for Online Teaching

  1. Discussion Forums: I use our Moodle course news forum to communicate announcements and other course-related information and enable student posting to these forums, too. I request students post non-urgent course questions to forums set up on our Moodle course site. I tell them to do this so we can all save time–it is likely other students may have the same questions, so answering one question for many is a good idea. I always enable RSS feeds on all Moodle forums, too, so students can subscribe through a feed-reader.
  2. Social Streams: I use a course Twitter feed (http://twitter.com/edtech501) to post urgent updates, which students can follow to enable alerts on their mobile devices. I have also starting using Google+ and have added all of my students to a circle. I post timely updates to my Google+ stream, sharing it with this circle. Students are beginning to use the Google Plus mobile app, too.
  3. Gmail Chat/SMS: I encourage my students to text me using Gmail chat or SMS, both of which they can do within the Gmail Chat interface. (In fact, as I was writing this, a student contacted me to request sharing a Google collection with her. I did it, told her it was done. All within a few seconds.) I also encourage students to install the Gmail Voice/Video plugin, so we can voice-chat. It is so much easier and saves time if students contact me this way, ask a question, and then receive an answer. No reading of emails, no answering them, and no cleaning out my email inbox. No waiting for answers. Short, sweet, and simple. Of course, you do need to stay on task, answer the questions, and then say good-bye. Not an easy thing for someone who has been labeled a “one-person social network.” Well . . . I have to have SOME vices.
  4. Free Gmail Account: I have switched over to a regular, free Gmail account instead of using my university Gmail domain. It’s easier, since I can incorporate all Google tools and also use Google Plus, a great communication tool I am now using with my students. (More about that in a future post.) 🙂 And I have recommended my students do the same. I forward all email to this regular Gmail account, enable multiple sign in, and enable sending email from multiple addresses. That way, if I’m sending an email to an EDTECH colleague, I might use my Boise State email address, which is available through a drop-down box when I compose an email.
  5. Email Schedule: I set a realistic time schedule for reading and responding to emails and stick to it. I read my emails twice a day, once at 10 am and the other at 4 pm Monday through Friday. I disable all automatic notices (you know, those little pop-up windows that beg for your attention?) and try to stick to a twice a day schedule. Of course, I also tell my students my email reading schedule.
  6. Email Subscriptions: I only enable email subscriptions to the most important forums, such as our EDTECH Moodle forums. Anything else that arrives in my email I either unsubscribe to or mark as spam. Gmail is pretty good at spotting most spam messages, too.
  7. Gmail Priority Inbox: I use Priority Inbox in my Gmail account and have trained it to spot the important messages. It works pretty well.
  8. Mobile Access: I sync my Gmail/Calendar/Contacts to my iPhone so I stay updated (during my scheduled times!) whenever and wherever I am.
  9. Tasks and Clean Up: When I go through my email, I respond right away to messages from my students, if the response will take just a couple of minutes. If it will require more research, I assign it as a task in Gmail and then return to it when I have more time. I quickly scan my emails twice a day, responding to and archiving them all when I am done, ending up with a clean inbox. It’s kind of like having a clean room–you’ll be more willing to return!
  10. Turn Emails into Tutorials: I am now using a very useful tool in beta called Clarify-it. You can download the free beta for Mac (which is similar to their own product, Screen Steps). Instead of creating an email with instructions, create a re-usable tutorial using Clarify-it. It takes just a bit more time, but can be used over and over again. What’s really cool about this tool is you can update your tutorial, publish it quickly, and the link remains the same. So all of your linked resources on your course site will not have to redone.

I am constantly thinking of and trying out new ways of communicating and collaborating online, increasing efficiency and effectiveness. I’d love to hear your comments, ideas, and what you are doing. Add your comments below and thanks for reading.

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