Making Individualized Connections with Online Students

Making Individualized Connections with Online StudentsIn the absence of meeting your students in a face to face course; how can higher education instructors make individualized connections with their students in the online course environment?

Introduce yourself and demonstrate to the students that you have a passion for the subject of the course. Provide a video introduction. Provide your professional biography and a picture. Encourage students to do the same in the first discussion forum.

Give students a choice. If you are an educator who truly differentiates, you will give students choices on assignments, projects, etc. Instead of authoring a paper every week, give students the choice of creating a short video, podcast, or presentation. In addition, provide choices in disseminating information. Read this article or watch this video. Providing students with choices gives them an investment in the course.

Review the instructions for assignments/discussion/assessments. Go over them and go over them, again.  Ensure that all instructions are clear and with step-by-step details, if necessary. Students can get easily frustrated when instructions are not clear.

Your online classroom is filled with students who learn in a variety of ways. Following the principles of Universal Design for Learning (2018), instructors can provide students with multiple means of engagement, representation and express. This includes working in modalities such as videos, audio, presentation, and project choices that help engage and encourage learning for all students and preferences. Differentiating instruction will keep your students engaged. Engaged Students = Retained Students.

At some point in childhood, everyone dreams of becoming a teacher. Grading papers, writing on chalk boards, going to the faculty room. This is where peer review comes in. Ask students to review each other’s work. You will find that they are amazing kind and sensitive to one another. Provide guidelines or a simple rubric for reviewing assignments. Ask students to work together in small groups or pairings. This will give your online students a chance to network and learn about one another. Online learning doesn’t have to be solitary. Allow students to develop a community in your course.

The Art of Announcements

Create an announcement for each module or week. Give students the threads between modules in each announcement. For example, in last week’s readings, we explored… This week, we will be using that knowledge and applying it to…

Announcements can also be the place where your personality shines through. Give extra instructional help on areas that you know are challenging for students. Provide some of your professional experience in the subject/content area. Update announcements during the week, as needed. These practices prove that you care and are an active part of the class.

To maintain an instructional presence in the course, use the announcements as an area to do some online teaching. If students typically have issues with a specific part of the course, provide additional information and assistance to answer questions before they are asked. The announcements area is your chance to “teach”. You can include tutorials, added resources, etc…

Go beyond the university requirement of posting a weekly announcement. Be accessible and respond to student inquiries in a timely manner. Provide substantive feedback and positive critique. Inject some fun into the classroom with a story or anecdote. Learn the mechanics of an online course. Become fluid in the learning management system.

As an educator, you are trying to provide students with the best educational experience whether it be online or “in-seat”. Think of things you do in your real life courses and how they can be translated into digital format. Do not be afraid to experiment.


Rose, D. (2018). Universal Design for Learning[Scholarly project]. In Center for Applied Special Technology. Retrieved December 20, 2018, from

-by Dr. Anne-Marie Fiore, Higher Education Curriculum and Instruction Senior Lead