Strategies for Connecting with Students

(2 minute read)

At the beginning of the American experience of COVID-19, Doug Lederman asked a number of higher education experts to predict the impact of the pandemic on students and faculty. A number of them suggested that students would need extra support, patience, and flexibility from their teachers – a prediction that has been borne out by more recent discussion of mental health on campuses. Awareness of the struggles that students are facing has led instructors to think deeply, and frequently, about the need to provide consistent support for their students.

At a recent open session for faculty coaches, discussion turned to strategies for strengthening connections with students. Here’s some of their tips:

Check in with students at the beginning of class: Some instructors liked to place students in breakout rooms to have time to socialize with each other at the beginning of class – this allowed the students to get to know each other and brought them into class more relaxed and ready to engage; others suggested a general check-in with the whole class, while not requiring individual students to share if they were not comfortable doing so.

Communication is about more than content: Coaches also suggested breaking up class activities with polls through Zoom or other add on platforms such as Poll Everywhere or Mentimeter (for more information on polling strategies, see CTL’s “A Pedagogical Guide to Zoom, Part 2”). Kahoot competitions were also popular. These technologies can be used for lecture or discussion pauses to check on understanding of content, but they can also be used to lighten up class activities and allow students to connect with each other through fun activities.

Break out the ice-breakers: Encouraging students to post their own video introductions to the class Blackboard (or other) site was one tip to help students connect to each other. Another suggestion, taken from CAS-CGS Master Lecturer Tom Underwood’s Lightning Talk (see the recording of “Fostering Classroom Community”), was to ask students to volunteer to present on topics of personal interest at the beginning of each class.

Coaches recommended social media platforms such as Pronto and Slack to create easy channels of communication, but remember to clarify your response policy so students don’t expect instant messages at any time!

Real time revisions: Sargent Clinical Professor Karen Jacobs has a quick Qualtrics form for students to fill in at the end of every class. She poses three questions: What are the two most meaningful things you learned during this class? What question(s) remain uppermost in your mind? Is there anything you did not understand? Based on the answers to these regular check-ins, Karen is able to adjust her plan for subsequent classes.

Contact beyond contact hours: Many coaches had support systems out of class, too: Senior Lecturer Alison Carberry (CAS Romance Studies) asked students to sign up for a 5-7 minute check-in meeting with her through Google calendar. Others suggested email check-ins between classes, while Associate Professor Laurie Craigen (Psychiatry, BUMC) created sign-ups for 3-4 students to “walk and talk” with their program director.

As faculty strengthen community with and for their students with these strategies and many more, they are also building community with each other as they share their ideas. Thanks to all the coaches and faculty who contributed their ideas to this discussion!