Using Course Announcements to Maximize Instructor Presence
Research shows that online students appreciate a strong instructor presence. Online instructors who leave regular digital footprints in their classes show that they are actively engaged and committed to supporting student success. In addition to discussion boards and assignment feedback, course announcements provide an excellent opportunity for instructors to maximize their online presence while also sharing important course information.
Personalize Your Space
Let your students know that you are more than words on a digital page. While you want to be professional, you also want to be approachable. Use an early course announcement to introduce yourself and to let your students know that you are there to support their learning. Since you are an expert in your subject, you may also want to provide your own research or professional anecdotes to help students engage more deeply with the course material.
Don’t be afraid to be creative with your posts. The addition of occasional cartoons, memes, digital photos, charts and video messages can really personalize your course. Just be sure to provide correct attribution for any content that isn’t your own.
At the start of the course, a well written announcement can contextualize course content so that students will better understand how the content fits into their broader field of study. Use this opportunity to show your students how the course content will inform their theoretical understanding and professional practice.
Weekly course announcements can bridge ideas and show how one course module relates to the next. Focus on sections of the course that will be especially challenging so that students know you are their for them and so they can best benefit from your guidance. Point out areas that have been challenging for past students, and explain how they can avoid the same pitfalls. Whenever possible, provide your students with tools for success.
Model and Motivate
Student models can be very powerful, so use your course announcements to highlight excellent student work and to emphasize what they are doing well. For instance, you might draw attention to a particularly thoughtful discussion post or provide genuine praise for group work that goes above and beyond your expectations.
Timing is Everything
Time is a precious commodity for our adult learners, so it isn’t surprising that students routinely rate timeliness of information as one of the most vital components of online learning (Sheridan & Kelly, 2010). Use your course announcements to remind students of upcoming assignments, to clarify difficult concepts, and to provide just-in-time learning resources. Doing so will also provide you with time, as you may often be pre-emptively addressing individual student questions that might otherwise come to you via email.
Recycle, Reuse, but Reevaluate
If you have crafted a particularly great announcement for one course then, by all means, use it again in a future term. However, seasons change and course content changes, so you should always make sure that the content is still relevant. You definitely don’t want to confuse students by wishing them a Happy Thanksgiving in April or referring them to an article or video that is no longer in the course.
The good news is that you can do a lot with a little. Concise, quality announcements a couple of times a week can go a long way toward engaging your students. They will benefit from it, and so will you.
Boettcher, J.V. & Conrad, R.M. (2010). The online teaching survivial guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. Hoboken, NJ. John Wiley & Sons.
Sheridan, K. and Kelly, M.A. (2010). The indicators of instructor presence that are important to students in online courses. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6, 767-779. Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol6no4/sheridan_1210.pdf.