Class Communications at a Distance

Communicating with your students is the number one way to keep them on track and engaged in the topic of your course. But when the physical classroom is not an option how do we keep the lines of communication open between the instructor, the students, and their peers?

Here’s some tips and tools for making sure you’re keeping the communication lines open.

Before the start of class

  • Make sure your University email address is provided in a prominent place of the class syllabus. This will ensure students can message you with questions or concerns.
    • *Note: You can have your University email forwarded to another email address if your primary email is something else.
  • You might also provide a phone number and some “virtual office hours” when it would be appropriate for students to call.
    • *Note: You can have your office line forwarded to a cell phone or home line during campus closures which ensures you’re not sharing personal phone numbers.
  • Speaking of Virtual Office Hours, you may want to schedule a WebEx session each week where you are available for drop-ins and informal Q&A.
  • Create a FAQ in the Blackboard Learn Discussions tool and maintain it throughout the term.
  • Create and schedule Announcements in Blackboard for things like reminders, due dates and other planned events within your class schedule. This will save you time later in the term and ensure you don’t forget to send them.
  • Create a welcome video for the landing page of the course. This ensures that whenever students arrive to class for the first time they’re greeted by their instructor. This can just be a quick webcam hello with some instructions as to how to navigate the menu items or you might want to create a course trailer to really get students excited about being part of the learning community.

First Week of Class

  • Email students through the Email Tool in Blackboard at the start of class. You can welcome them to the class, set up expectations about how long they can expect to wait for a reply to their email questions and generally just say, Hi! This is more about confirming that there is in fact a live instructor facilitating and guiding this experience.
  • Setting up a who’s who chat inside the Discussion Forums can also get students interacting with peers and practicing with some tools before you get too deep. Have students post something interesting about themselves or something of interest to them and get people talking.

Throughout the Term

  • Discussion Forums can be vibrant exciting places to engage with peers and materials in an online class. They can also be a painful and often dreaded experience for students and instructors alike. The trick is to make the discussions purposeful. Follow this link to some resources around how to design interesting and engaging discussion activities.

Also here is a video you might use to show students the importance of online discussions.

  • Synchronous Activities are a great way to communicate with students throughout the year. Case studies, debates, open Q&A’s, guest lecturers and more can all participate together in web conferencing platforms like WebEx. See this link to find more ideas and tools to use for synchronous activities.
  • Announcements are a great way to share current events relevant to the class material, provide wrap-up or summary of discussions or activities, or provide student with other relevant information about job postings or extra curricular opportunities in your field of study. Keeping in contact throughout the term makes students feel more connected to their online learning community.


  • Providing Feedback for assignments and activities is always important in helping students know how their learning journey is going. It’s especially important that you not only provide a number of formative assessment opportunities for students throughout the term, whether it be review questions and answers or self check activities, but also that you provide them with personal feedback on major assignments. Although this can be done as written comments and track changes on a document, consider creating a short video that outlines your comments and recommendations to add a personal touch.

Audio and Video creations

  • Creating Audio and Video content is easier than ever and doing so shows off your personality in a way that asynchronous discussion forums and announcements just can’t match. Panopto makes is simple to record and share video files with your class and even embed quizzes and activities right in the player. Demos, interviews, wrap-up’s and more can all help students better understand the written materials with added context.
  • Students can create videos too. Use Panopto to create a video assignment for students. Design a poster presentation assignment or just have students take the class through a webtour of an online resource. There are lots of ways students can make use of video in class to better communicate with everyone.

In the end, communicating with your students is all about creating a healthy online learning community. Click this link to learn more about how to create a Healthy Virtual Learning Community

Additional Resources:

Developing Effective Online Communication Plans –

Utilizing Social Learning in Online Courses –

Humanizing Online Teaching and Learning –


Selecting Learning Material

The learning materials in your online course typically will consist of artifacts that your students will interact with individually. Learning materials can include readings from books and journals, watching videos, listening to audio recordings, or engaging with an interactive learning object.

The purpose of the Learning Material is to provide the content that will support the learning objectives. This section is often considered the equivalent of the face-to-face class session. Explain the basic concepts of the content, emphasizing important points and providing examples where appropriate. Specifically, include information about topics that students typically have difficulty with.

Tips for selecting learning materials

When selecting learning materials, consider how you expect your students to interact with the material. Will students:

  • passively read articles or viewing video?
  • engage in a non-graded activity related to the material?
  • use the material to complete a graded assignment?
  • access the material through the learning management system, open web, or some other way?
  • reuse, adapt and modify, collaborate, or share the learning material in some way?

When selecting learning materials for your course, consider the question “in order to contribute fully to class discussion and complete the planned activities and assignments, students will need access to…”

A textbook

  • Complete the University Store Adoption Form/Students purchase from the University Book Store (bookstore link)
  • Adopt an open textbook (where do I find open textbooks?link)

A book chapter

  • Place the book on Library Reserve (link)
  • Use an e-book / e-chapters version (linking to library online resources)
  • Adopt a chapter of an open textbook (where do I find OER? link to OER section of the website)
  • *Create a course pack (Coursepack guide and forms)

An article

  • Link from the Course Hub to a licensed e-copy of the article (linking to library online resources)
  • link from the Course Hub to an open access copy of the article
  • *Create a course pack (Coursepack guide and forms)

A website (an image on a website, video, text, etc.)

  • Link to the website from the Course Hub
    • *Check the terms of use and/or the web material’s license. Some materials are published under open licenses. (find out more about open licenses)
  • *Create a course pack (Coursepack guide and forms)

A film or video clip

  • Use the University Library’s film and streaming services
  • Link to legitimate video sites from the Course Hub (where do I find open access video?)

An audio file or clip (music, podcast, radio clip, etc)

  • Use audio licensed by the University Library
  • Link to legitimate audio sites from the Course Hub (where do I find open access audio?)

Images (e.g. artwork)

  • Use images published under an open license
  • Use images licensed by the University Library
  • Link to websites from the Course Hub

Who to Contact for Assistance

  • Distance Education Unit
    Assistance finding and adopting Open Educational Resources (e.g. open textbooks)
  • University Libraries
    Contact your subject librarian: Subject Librarians by College or Department
    Linking to Library Online Resources: (link to instructions)
  • Copyright Office


Attributions for this page:

Image from, CC0 Creative Commons