Direct, Connect, Reflect: Creating Meaningful Online Relationships & Experiences Equals Success-4-All

Concurrent Session 8

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Instructor engagement and responsiveness will make or break the online classroom. This session provides ideas and strategies to connect with your students for overall success.


Dr. Freeman is currently Full Professor at USC Upstate in Spartanburg, South Carolina where she has taught Elementary Education undergraduate and graduate courses for ten years. For several years she has been chair of the elementary program and diversity committee. She has served on the leadership board and assessment board for the university. Dr. Freeman has published numerous articles, book chapters and books related to her research and interests in education related relationships, bullying, children's literature and technology. She has also presented her research and interests at national and international conferences and has been asked to present technology training sessions for her home university and community. She has taught online courses for USC Upstate, Western Carolina University and Grand Canyon University. She has taught in environments where she has been responsible for creating courses from the ground up as well as for mega-universities where there are course designers and curriculum specialists who create the courses and the instructor follows by monitoring assignments and discussion forums. Dr. Freeman spends her free time with her family and friends.

Extended Abstract

     I have taught online courses for three universities for over 10 years yet I have colleagues who still make statements such as "online courses are not as rigorous as face-to-face courses;" "students learn very little in online courses;" and "it is impossible to have a relationship with students in an online environment." Digital learning and online education is no longer the exception but the norm in the global realm in which we live. If we are going to continue with online education it must work for the student. It must be responsive, engaging and communicative.
     I am an Associate Professor at a small public university where instructors build and manage their online courses from the ground up. I also teach adjunct courses for a mega-university (Grand Canyon University) where there are course designers and curriculum specialists who create the courses and the instructor follows by monitoring assignments and discussion forums. If the instructor so desires, online courses can be as rigorous and rewarding as face-to-face courses (whether you build the course yourself or someone else builds it for you). If the instructor wants to make the effort (as in any course format), relationships can be formed, students can be engaged and connections can be made. I wasn't always successful at gaining the respect and attention of the students, but over the years I have grown in my teaching and developed strategies and ideas for making connections and content more meaningful.
     The overall goal for this session will be to share ideas and examples for interacting in online courses so that the students feel a connection with the instructor and each other. We want students to feel as if they are a part of the group and that we as instructors are there for them and hear what they are saying. Once connections are formed and students feel comfortable in a classroom setting, they are more willing to study and participate and less likely to withdraw or tune out.
     Anyone working in the area of online education (instructors, distance education directors, faculty support specialists & administrators) would benefit from this session. This session will be of interest to those who are new to online education as well as individuals who have years of experience in the field. This session will also benefit instructors in the face-to-face classroom. It is all about connecting with your students for a better learning experience.
     Participants will learn strategies for making their online courses more warm and welcoming environments while still maintaining high academic expectations. Participants will learn how to make their online learning environments a positive experience through interaction and networking.
     Session participants will receive presentation hard copies and electronic access to all presentation materials, ideas, examples, web links and research. A list of specific strategies for connecting with students in online courses will be provided. 
     This session will be unique, valuable and engaging. I cannot tolerate speakers and teachers who love to hear themselves talk and who drone on like a Fyodor Dostoevsky novel! I am also a bit hyper and can generally put two hours of information in a 30 minute time frame. I will engage attendees just as I engage my online students. I will model strategies and ideas in the presentation that I use in my online courses. I will present short scenarios for participants followed by reactions using the "think-pair-share" response (Lyman, 1981) and other audience participation activities. We will have quick question/answer moments. Students will get to observe examples from online courses I have taught in the past and am currently teaching. There are many faculty members who fear teaching online because they do not know how to interact in this type of environment. They fear their students will be disengaged and that they will not have the ability to keep them interested or on-task; they feel they will not know their students as they would in a face-to-face course; and they will not be able to provide the content in a meaningful and interesting format. They fear failure. 
Some instructors do not believe it is important to make connections with students, however Delaney, Johnson, Johnson and Treslsan (2010) found out otherwise. In a survey of students it was found that the top two characteristics that students look for most from faculty in online courses are "responsiveness" and "engagement." Most anyone can write content, give assignments, grade papers and submit final grades. It takes effort to engage students and make a connection such that they will be talking and "Tweeting" about your class for years to come.
     If participants want to be successful in their online courses or are considering teaching online for the first time, this session is for them! They will leave renewed and excited, and prepared to create the most high-quality online learning experiences for their students.
Delaney, J. G., Johnson, A. N., Johnson, T. D. & Treslan, D. I., (2010). Students' perceptions of effective teaching in higher education. St. John's, NL: Distance Education and Learning Technologies.
Lyman, F. T. (1981). The responsive classroom discussion: The inclusion of all students. In A. Anderson (Ed.), Mainstreaming Digest (p. 109-113). College Park: University of Maryland Press.