The Benefits of Emailing Your Students EVERY DAY

Recently, I was speaking with a well-seasoned professor who also happens to be a very busy administrator, and he told me that he emails his online students EVERY DAY. That’s right, every day. What?!! Yes. His argument for doing this is that students perform better when they know that their instructor cares about them. If the instructor is writing to them daily, then the subliminal message is that professor is taking time out of their schedule to keep them on track, and it has been his experience that students respond positively to that. What does he write to them, you may ask? He says it is anything from tips or insights on covered material, to encouraging messages, to reminders about assignments/tests, to clarifications from lectures or discussions. The point is to show you care about their success.

He also mentioned that while he has seen teaching methodologies come and go, the number one predictor of student success continues to be the time spent with the material. This is where the daily emails really pay off. As a student, if you are getting nudged, prompted, cajoled, etc. into discussions or engaging with the material and concepts on a regular basis you will get the sense that this person cares about my learning and I want to meet  that person’s expectations and hit the books, discussion board, and homework.

Of course, no one wants to be the “helicopter” instructor, but based on my own experience teaching in-service K-12 teachers in an online Master’s program, inevitably some of those who were dragging their feet for one reason or another, in the end, told me that they appreciated the bi-weekly (as in twice a week) nagging I would give them about upcoming deadlines because they knew I wanted them to cross the finish line. Now think about undergrads, many of whom are taking online courses for the first time in their lives, and probably feeling intimidated by the sheer load of the work and the isolation from other students and the instructor. Those friendly, daily communications should help to ease those tensions and help them get through the coursework. That “instructor presence” is vital to the online learner.

If you want to try the daily communications, here are a couple of tips:

  1. For Blackboard users, instead of email, use the Announcements tool the first few days of class while add/drops are going on so no one misses out.
  2. To avoid being bombarded by course questions in email, ask students to post their general questions to the discussion board and that way you are answering a question that several students may benefit from. Individual concerns, however, should be addressed in email.
  3. The instructor I spoke with keeps a thread in the discussion forum where he posts every email that he sends to students so that they can go back and see what was sent previously. In some learning management systems, it may be easier to navigate the forums than email.
  4. Mix up the messages. They don’t always have to be about coursework. Talk to students about something happening on campus that might be of interest, an article you read, a conference you attended. You don’t have to overshare; keep the messages to a few sentences and just give them enough to get a sense of you as a professional and a person.
  5. Whatever you do about email communications, somewhere in your syllabus, give your students an approximate time-frame in which you will respond to their inquiries. For example, if you are night owl, let them know, you will respond to emails between midnight and 2 am. Alternatively, let them know you will respond within 24 hours.

How do you “personalize” your course? Please share your ideas with the community.

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