Staying on Their Mind: Six Ways to Engage Students Online

Kelli Hicks
Tuesday, November 22, 2016 - 8:00am

This past year, I went on a trip to London. My four-year-old, Katie, helped me pack for the trip. As I packed, she disappeared for a few minutes and came back with a heart she had decorated. She put it in the suitcase and said, "Mommy, take this heart so you will remember I love you." The heart stayed on the nightstand at the hotel. It was the last thing I saw each night before I turned off the lights, and the first thing I saw in the morning.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this heart had a big impact when I selected souvenirs for my three girls. I discovered that every item I purchased was purple, Katie’s favorite color. Seeing the heart each day had influenced me. Katie had stayed on my mind!

Katie's heart reminds me that, as educators, we need to find creative ways to stay on our student's minds. If we make the effort to keep a presence in their lives, our students will be more likely to stay on task or to return to working if they have stopped.

Teachers can stay on the minds of our online students using a few simple techniques. Below is a list of six ways you can connect with your online students throughout the entire year:

  1. Send weekly emails. Write personal notes specifically addressing items your student has worked on, struggled with, succeeded at, etc. You can also send emails with questions about a favorite hobby, goals in life, and anything else to help you get to know them. Keep the answers and send them follow up questions, asking about things they have mentioned. It’s always nice when people actually remember what we tell them about ourselves, and showing your students that you bothered to remember they liked horses or hockey will go a long way.
  2. Send hand-written cards. If you know a student’s birthday, this would be an amazing time to send a card. But you can also send a card celebrating success on a test, passing a unit, wishing them a happy holiday, or welcoming them to a course.
  3. Create a personal video. When a student is struggling with a concept, capture a personal video explaining the concept and addressing the student by name.
  4. Respond to discussion posts. Get involved with the conversations. For more fun, create discussion posts designed specifically as get-to-know-you conversations, and participate by responding and initiating further conversations.
  5. Make personal phone calls. This simple act goes a long way to make students feel connected. If students hear your voice and know you took the time to call them, they are going to feel more comfortable with you and your course. They are also more likely to work and ask for help when they need it.
  6. Ask students for contributions. Post their content in the course. This could be announcements with study tips, jokes, stories to share, favorite books, etc.

Staying on their minds by using these simple techniques will ensure greater success for your online students.

Kelli Hicks is a teacher with more than twelve years of experience, including four years teaching online English, sociology, and ESL courses for Fuel Education. Additionally, Kelli serves as the State Lead Teacher for Utah and is a shift lead for the FuelEd Academic Support Team (TAMS). Kelli has taught both online and within traditional brick-and-mortar schools focusing on at-risk and ESL students. She graduated from Utah State University with a bachelor's degree in English education, minoring in sociology education with an ESL endorsement.

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