What are some ways to communicate with your students online?
As we already know, there are different tools to communicate in the online classroom. Some of them include:
- Discussion boards in your LMS platforms – Edmodo, Canvas, Class Dojo;
- Blogs – WordPress, Blogger;
- Genial.ly bulletin boards;
- Video conferencing tools – Zoom, Free Conference Call;
What makes these communication types different is the type of communication which happens by using these digital tools and platforms. With that in mind, let’s talk about the types of online communication: synchronous and asynchronous.
Synchronous communication happens during the live lesson, where we can communicate with the students directly, via a video conferencing app.
Asynchronous communication is when we use emails or any kind of messaging service and answer when we see the message.
What are the essential communication skills for both students and teachers in the online classroom?
Many teachers and students are forced to switch to distance learning without having a choice to adapt their teaching and learning processes, so we must be able to transfer the skills we already possess to the online environment. The skills that are easily transferable to the online classroom are:
Listening has always been the most important aspect of communication, yet we tend to forget it so easily. Try to apply the student-centered learning approach and try to drift away from frontal teaching. Include your students into group research, interpretation, discussions. Motivate your students to listen to their classmates. Most of all, don’t forget to listen to your students yourself. They will tell you what they understand and what should be your next step – both verbally and non-verbally.
Friendliness is still important, even in the online classroom. Even though we are communicating through the screen, we need to foster a feeling of connection among our students. Start your class by asking every student how was their day, and how they feel. Acknowledge their feelings and emotions before you start with the lesson, and you will see that they will participate more and be more motivated.
When we say open-mindedness, we mean the general understanding of being privileged. What does being privileged mean in this situation? Having a steady job, not worrying over the roof above our heads, having access to technology and the internet, healthcare, or what will our next meal be. After understanding that a lot of us are privileged, we can start opening our minds and understanding that some of our students may lack the resources to attend our lessons and communicate with us. These students need us the most. We also need to motivate other students to be more open-minded and understand that not all of us come from the same background.
The information we share with our students during the live lesson is probably the most important part of our communication, after listening. It is better to complete fewer activities and cover less content than to just run through the units and activities you prepared. Effective feedback will also have a positive impact not only on their learning but also on their mental wellbeing.
Be confident! You will make mistakes. The applications and technology will not listen to you. Apps will crash, the internet connection will be slow, your dog or child may jump in the background. Be confident, and don’t let distractions ruin your lesson. The same goes for the students – motivate your students not to care about mistakes they make and let them know that it is ok to do just ok.
Non-verbal cues are essential if the teacher is talking, and the student’s microphones are muted. Despite that, you can still see them on camera, so do not forget to be on the lookout for the verbal communicative cues. Also, since you will use the chatbox a lot, start considering emoticons or the lack of emoticons as verbal cues, since the use of emoticons is really important in daily conversation, especially with young people. They can be considered as digital verbal cues, which show us how someone feels at the moment. Using Bitmojis is fun, and you can motivate your students to install the Bitmoji app and make their own, personal emojis.
Why are good communication skills important in the online classroom?
Finally, we need to address the question that we all have in mind: Why are good communication skills in the online classroom important? How can good communication skills improve our teaching?
Communication represents the fundamental step of both teaching and learning, and communication is the most important part of any learning process. The accent on communication in the distance learning classroom is even greater because it can have a great impact on the overall success of your teaching.
Self-efficacy is the most important product of good communication skills. When you achieve a certain level of self-efficacy, you will notice that your teaching methods are becoming more effective, and you are spending less time planning, delivering lessons, and even grading the assignments. Have self-efficacy in mind when you enter the online classroom and try to leave 10 minutes before the end of the lesson for all questions. Less is more, so try to be as simple as you can when it comes to tasks and instructions you usually give to your students.
Empathy and compassion are naturally developed through careful observation of the participants in the online classroom. Feeling empathy and compassion towards classmates and the teacher ultimately develops emotional intelligence and other soft skills, not just communication. When the participants of the online classroom show empathy and compassion, the atmosphere in the classroom becomes more pleasant, and this leads to higher retention of the new content and higher motivation among students.
Emotional intelligence is developed through effective communication technique and its foundation is long-term empathy and compassion which appear in quality communication, both online and offline. By developing their emotional intelligence, students, and teachers are able to respond better and act more accordingly to the current communicational context.
Assertiveness is the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive. This is a very important soft skill, especially in the online classroom. In every classroom, there is one, or even more than one student who is always in the spotlight, and who does not hesitate to step up, communicate his/her opinion, and ask questions. When it comes to the online classroom, we must give a chance to all students to develop their assertiveness. Why? Simply because in the online classroom it is even easier to be a bystander and just observe the lesson. Teaching online can be great for students who are a bit introverted since they can turn off the camera if they are not feeling comfortable sharing their video, and they can share their opinion, knowledge or ask questions only via audio.
What are some communication techniques that worked well in your online classroom? What are some less successful communicational techniques you used? Please write in the comments, we would love to hear your opinion!