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The Impact of Teacher-Student Relationships in an Online Course – Part 1

The Impact of Teacher-Student Relationships in an Online Course, Part 1. LauraVCoulter.com

Why is the teacher-student relationship in an online course important?

In this series, we’ve covered building community in a paced (synchronous) course and a self-paced (asynchronous) course, and we’ve talked about the power of teamwork in online learning. This week and next, we are wrapping up our building community series by taking a closer look at the impact of positive teacher-student relationships in an online course.

According to Dr. Lisa Cravens-Brown, as noted in an article by Jackie Wickham, the positive impact of building community in an online course is invaluable. It influences task persistence, motivation, course success, and perception of the instructor.

In Part 1, we’re covering:

  • The Instructor Has To Take The Lead In Building Teacher-Student Relationships
  • What Is A ‘Sense Of Presence’ And Why Is It Important In Building Teacher-Student Relationships In An Online Course?
  • Discussion Boards Play A Valuable Role In Creating Positive Teacher-Student Relationships In An Online Course

The instructor has to take the lead in building teacher-student relationships

It is the instructor’s job to start building positive relationships with students. Students can work through online course material without ever interacting with an instructor. It’s true. But that doesn’t mean they will get the best possible education. The instructor’s role is to build relationships that humanize the course.

Showing enthusiasm in the lectures increases student engagement. If you don’t sound interested in what you’re saying when you’re lecturing, your students won’t be interested either.

Instructor participation in discussion boards also shows enthusiasm for the course. It also increases student engagement and participation. We’ll cover discussion boards more a bit later in the article.

What is a ‘sense of presence’ and why is it important in building teacher-student relationships in an online course?

Have you ever put on a pair of virtual reality (VR) goggles? Everything goes dark for a moment and then a world opens up around you. When you move in VR, one of two things can happen. You either get discombobulated a little or a lot and may even get a little motion sick. Or you settle into the new world and feel like you are really present there. This ‘sense of presence’ has more to do with the programming than with your ability to suspend disbelief. VR developers have to use certain framerates and other technical considerations to create that sense of presence. The VR worlds that don’t feel right? It might not be you.

A sense of presence in an online course is much like a sense of presence virtual reality. You want student to feel that you, the instructor, are present and nearby in the online course.
Photo by Hammer & Tusk on Unsplash

That sense of presence has to be built into an online course, too. You are the programmer in this case. Your design and participation can create a sense of presence for your students. If you don’t give much thought to building teacher-student relationships within your course, you run the risk of students feeling disconnected in your virtual course.

The instructor’s role in building a sense of presence

Part of your job as the instructor is to create a sense that you are present in the course. Here are five quick-win techniques to help you do that:

1. Give timely feedback

If you have given an assignment that has an instructor feedback element to it, don’t dally. The faster you give that feedback to the student, the more present you seem in the course.

2. Be active on the discussion boards

You don’t have to jump in and answer everyone’s questions. In fact, it’s often better if you don’t. You do want to comment on interesting points in the question and encourage other students to respond. Your participation makes the question-poster feel seen and encourages students to connect with each other.

Don’t worry about being on the discussion boards every minute. No one expects that. But do schedule a regular time to check-in and continue encouraging discussion.

3. Respond to questions quickly

This tip seems in direct opposition to the one before, but it’s a bit different. You will get students emailing questions to you directly. Those questions should be answered, preferably within 24 hours.

You want to answer the question on the discussion board rather than in an individual email, though. If one student has the question, it’s very likely that others have it. Posting the question and answer in a specific area of the discussion board creates a routine and adds a sense of stability to the course.

4. Be available on social media

You don’t have to be on every social media platform. That would be exhausting. If you are on any social media platform, though, share that with your students. This gives them access to you outside of the course, again solidifying the idea that you are a person just like them.

The same rule applies here as in responding to student questions above. If a student direct messages you a question about the course, respond within 24 hours. Let them know you will answer that question on the discussion board so the whole class can benefit from the answer.

5. Share something personal about yourself

Don’t get crazy here. Students likely don’t want to hear all about how your kitchen is set up in your home. That’s a lot of irrelevant information. But they may find it interesting that you use an antique egg beater that you inherited from your great-grandmother if the topic of interesting kitchen items ever comes up.

Sharing something personal allows the students to see you as a person rather than a disembodied floating head in the course. When you post introduction questions on the discussion board, be sure to answer them yourself. If they have to share stories, you should share your story, too. Holding yourself to the same standard you hold the students to builds trust between you.

The student’s role in building a sense of presence

While the instructor’s role is vital, students, too, have a role to play in creating this sense of presence. Here are three ways students can increase their sense of presence in the online course:

1. Participate in the discussion boards

Active participation in the discussion boards is a sign of engagement. The more active students are in the discussion board, the more other students will engage.

2. Use video often

If an assignment allows for a video response, encourage students to use video. This helps bring classmates to life and helps students feel more connected.

3. Share something personal

When responding to a discussion board prompt or engaging in an active discussion, students can give examples from their own lives to make their point. This helps increase the sense of presence of a real person in the class.

Discussion boards play a valuable role in creating positive teacher-student relationships in an online course

Setting up discussion boards for success requires planning and active engagement on your part, as the instructor. We talked about some of these points earlier in the post.

First, it’s important to organize your discussion board. Offer a social area for students to connect and go off-topic without cluttering up the course-focused discussions. Don’t forget to take part in the social boards yourself. It helps students see you as a person and increases your sense of presence.

Participation in the course social discussion board helps build teacher-student relationships in an online course.
Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

The instructor should be a facilitator on the discussion board rather than the ‘all-knowing’ sage. To do this, be sure to engage with the posts and encourage classmates to respond, refute, or expand on each other’s ideas. You want students to feel that what they have to say is valuable.

When you post ‘get-to-know-you’ type questions, include questions that help you get to know the student’s goals for taking the course. You can ask what skills they hope to get out of it, what their comfort level is with various elements, or any number of questions that help you get to know the make-up of your class better. This will come in handy when we get to the one-on-one part below.

One of the last two important bits about discussion boards is to remember to answer questions for the entire audience rather than privately. This allows everyone to benefit from the answer and keeps you from having to answer the same questions over and over.

The other bit is to check in on the discussion board regularly. Consistency builds trust. You want your students to trust they are going to find you when they need you and this means they know when to look for you. If you want to check in daily for 15 minutes on weekdays, make that clear. If you want to check in twice a week, publish those dates and stick to the schedule. Routine matters.

Wrapping up Part 1

That’s it for this week. In Part 2, we’ll discuss:

  • Video As A Tool For Building Positive Teacher-Student Relationships In An Online Course
  • Live Chats Cannot Be Underestimated
  • Building Teacher-Student Relationships One-On-One In An Online Course
  • Organization Of Your Online Classroom Plays A Role In The Teacher-Student Relationship

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Looking for More on Creating online Courses?

The Building Community Series is linked at the beginning of this article, but here are a few more articles you may be interested in.

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