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Chaparral 2017-2018: 26.3 Teaching Online

Teaching Online (November 2017)

Teaching Online: One-on-One with Every Student

By Joe Longo
English Division


At first blush, teaching an online course may seem impersonal. I, however, do not find it so.

I have been teaching online at for the last seven years. I teach an English 2 course, which is Introduction to Literature and Intermediate Composition. My courses are eight weeks, and I teach using the versatile Canvas platform, which I love.

One-on-one communications with my students start before the course begins. One week before the start date, I send each student a Welcome Email—in which I give them an overview of the course, the course requirements, the required books, and the first week's reading assignments. This semester, for the first time, I sent the students an email one month before the course started. This I thought would give them more time to find affordable books. Also, my overview of the course will help students determine if this is the course for them. In the email, I also tell them they should feel free to email me if they have questions. I also include a photo of myself with this email, making it a bit more personal.

Most online courses are broken down into modules. My modules are organized into weeks: Week One, Week Two…. Each modulate contains a discussion board or blog. The discussion boards are an important part of the course, and one of the important ways I start to establish a one-on-one relationship with my students.

My discussion blogs require that students comment on the week’s assigned readings. They need to respond three times. First, they need to respond to my prompts about the readings, and then they need to respond twice to my comments or to their classmates’ comments.

For week one, I have students write an introduction in which they include some basic information about themselves and their favorite books, movies, plays and poems. I also have them state where they are from and from where they are taking the course. I have had students taking my courses from China, Spain, England, and many other countries. This usually invites curiosity and questions from their classmates. I state also that they cannot write in NetSpeak (no abbreviations, PLZ!) and that they follow acceptable “Netiquette.”

One of the reasons for having students write an introduction, besides giving a bit of a personality to anonymous names on a blog, is to expose me for the first time to their writing. I contribute to the discussions, enjoy reading their posts, and especially like reading their favorites and making comments about them.

However, when the deadline comes and all the students have made their contributions, I go over each of the comments and grade them. While doing that, I make individual comments on each of their posts. This is done privately—one-on-one. It is just between the student and me. For example, I may comment on a student’s interpretation of a story, or ask for clarification on some point the student made, or make comments about his or her writing and give suggestions on how to improve it. I try to establish a private dialogue here, and students can respond privately to my comments.

Another way I attempt to establish a one-on-one relationship with my students is via emails. For me, emails are an essential part of the course. On Monday of each week, I send the class an email commenting on what has transpired the week before and reiterate what is due that week. (The course included modules with the syllabus and the due dates.)

Students have to write three essays for the course. Before I will accept a completed essay, I have to approve of their thesis statements. And this is where most of the one-on-one interactions with my students happens. Usually, there is an extensive email exchange with most of them before they come up with a cogent thesis that they can support with evidence from the readings. By discussing their thesis statements with them, I get to interact with every student and establish, hopefully, a supportive instructor/student relationship with each of them. I try to maintain a conversational, friendly tone in all my emails.

Since students today live in a vibrant audio/visual world, I also try to include as much audio and visual material into the course as I can, which will draw them to the reading material, to the words. I include some videos and audio of myself giving instructions, delivering parts of lectures, or emphasizing important aspects of the course. This I think makes my interactions with them more personal.

Teaching online, I get to interact one-on-one with every student in the class—and I find that this has not always been the case while teaching students live in a classroom.

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