Maintaining connections with your students while teaching remotely

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

by Alicia Russell

When you teach in a traditional classroom you can see your students’ faces and gauge how they’re reacting to lectures or class activities. You and your students usually develop a sense of community through shared interactions with the course material and one another. Now that you’re teaching remotely, it’s important to keep finding ways to help students feel connected to you, to each other, and to the course content, as well as to let them know that you care about them and their learning. In a virtual environment, just as in a traditional class, they want to feel that you’re setting expectations, monitoring their learning, and giving them feedback. Timeliness and regularity matter even more in a virtual environment. 

Make sure students are finding the information they need. 

Check in with your students as the transition starts. If you are using Canvas or Tusk site to organize your course content, does your course’s home page have all the information they need? Can students find it easily? Are they able to find links to all of the outside resources you use? Of course, you can ask students to send you an email if they are having difficulties. But some students may be reluctant to ask for help, especially if they feel that they are the only ones having difficulty. Thus, it may make sense for you to ask them specific questions about how they’re doing. You can use a survey in Canvas or collect students’ responses anonymously through Qualtrics. In a Zoom classroom you can obtain quick, private responses by using Zoom’s polling featurePoll Everywhere or by asking students to post questions in the chat feature (either in a personal chat to you, or to the whole class). For more ideas see Engaging Students and Eliciting Interaction While Teaching Remotely 

Ensure the virtual classroom is a respectful place for everyone. 

Because of the potential for anonymity in remote teaching, behavioral and participatory guidelines can be critical. If you haven’t already, work with the class to establish ground rules for participation and collaboration.Here are some suggestions on how to create ground rules for both synchronous and asynchronous classes. 

Modify and supplement online lectures to foster student engagement and interactions

Break longer lectures into short chunks and, when possible, link lectures to video demonstrations (see Journal of Visualized Experiments) or review materials. Students need to make connections & organize their knowledge when learning, make sure to help them by drawing connections between materials in the course. See Helping Students Learn from Lecture Capture for more ideas about how to support students learning from these materials.

When appropriate, supplement lectures with activities that help students learn and interact with each other. You can use discussion forums, projects, student presentations and other collaborative learning opportunities. For example, consider having students use voice thread for a group presentation. See Alternative to Exams for Remote Teaching for more ideas of student activities.

Identify clear times for students to assess their own learning.  At specific points during or after lectures, ask students questions about what they have learned. What was the muddiest point? What was one thing they learned? What do they want to know more about? For additional suggestions see Classroom Assessment Techniques.  

You might want to wrap up a class sessions with a way for everyone to connect. Share an image, use the shared whiteboard to post a positive final thought, or just wish everyone well until the next class.  See Ways to Engage Students when Teaching Remotely with Zoom for ideas in synchronous sessions.

Use online forums to enhance connections. 

If you are already using forums, make sure they’re effectively connecting students to each other. Let students know how you plan to monitor their participation. If some students don’t participate, reach out to them to be sure they understand your expectations. Consider having a discussion area where students can post informal questions. See these discussion rubrics suggestions

When giving instructions or assignments, be as clear as possible.  

Instructors often find that they have to work harder to be clear in an online space than in a classroom because they can’t see their students’ reactions. Ask a TA or colleague to read your instructions to see if they are clear and easy to understand. Check in with your students to be sure that they understand the instructions and ask what questions they have. If possible, increase the number of short, collaborative peer activities. Tell them when they can expect feedback from you, and what kind of feedback you’ll provide. Some faculty have decided to meet with students in Zoom to offer feedback synchronously. 

Make time to request feedback from students and let them know how you’ll respond. 

Within the first few weeks, ask students what’s working well in the class and what could be improved., the Zoom chat, and the Zoom whiteboard are all appropriate tools for this.  Once you’ve received feedback let them know what you’ll do. Are you going to adjust your approach? Do you need to clarify your instructions? Make other changes? If you find that many students have similar questions/concerns, consider creating a list of frequently asked questions along with your answers. 

Offer plenty of time for students to connect with you. If possible, come early and stay online after a synchronous Zoom sessions in order to meet with students. Just as in a face-to-face course, offer virtual office hours at times when students can take advantage of them will be important. 


Mary Raygoza, Raina León and Aaminah Norris. “Humanizing Online Teaching” (2020) 

Three Ways to Enhance Online Instruction 

See Also