Communication and Feedback Polices

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Module Summary

Let your students know when and how they can have access to you. Share with them the expectation that they also respond to you and their peers on a timely basis.

Without these policies, it is easy for students to assume they can reach you with the same 24/7 access they have to the internet.

In addition, be quick to contact students who fail to initially log on, or who might miss their first assignment deadline. Early intervention goes a long way to increasing overall student success and retention.


Learners will...

  • Understand the critical necessity of establishing course polices for communication and feedback.
  • Review the different types of communication used in online courses.

Main Concepts

In an online course, students need to understand what is expected of them, especially when considering communication. Without firm polices in place, students frequently expect immediate response to emails, or will attempt to extend deadlines arbitrarily. Guidelines within your syllabus, and throughout your course, can prevent some of the confusion and assumptions that often happen when teaching at a distance.

Whenever possible, model for your students how you wish for them to interact with you and their peers by your own communication practices. Pay careful attention to the tone and quality of your responses to your students. Each communication from you adds to your presence in the course and to the impression students have of you as an instructor. Be deliberate, thoughtful, and respectful – and expect such behavior in return.

How to

Use the appropriate communication method for the message you are sending to your students. Not all techniques work in all situations. Emailing individual students in a large class can become a huge undertaking, especially if your students start sending replies. Conversely, discussing details that may of a personal nature should never be done by public formats such as course announcements or message boards.

Listed below are several of the communication methods typically used in teaching online and some of the issues related to them:

  • Course Welcome Message

The first impression students have of your course is created by the Welcome Message on you course homepage. Found under the Basic Details in your K-State Online course, the Welcome Message is typically used for such things as a general description of your course, as well as details of where students should start in the course.

  • Announcements

The Announcement tool also posts to the homepage of your course. The benefit of this feature is that messages can be scheduled and updated easily. Frequently, Announcements are used for keeping your students updated on course changes and due dates.

  • Email

K-State Online allows you to email students from either the roster or the grade book. Traditionally, email works best for individual communication to students. Although, email also works well for reinforcing critical reminders and updates. But, be forewarned, many students have fallen into the habit of infrequently checking their email.

  • Message Board

Message Board discussions frequently drive most online course work. Although discussions on message boards are not appropriate for all curriculum, they do assist students in articulating their own understanding of the material and sharing their point of view with their peers. Such conversations tend to have more depth and breadth than the face-to-face equivalent. Remember, all posts are available for all students to read and reflect on.

  • Wimba

Wimba is a synchronous, conferencing application used for real-time discussions with students. It lets you quickly communicate with all of your students at the same time. However, scheduling Wimba sessions can be challenging because of the different schedules and time constraints online students are often facing. Wimba also works well for online office hours. (K-State stopped using Wimba in 2013/2014.)

  • Netiquette

Netiquette is the online behavior you expect from your learners in the course towards others and their ideas. By posting these rules, you can prevent flaming (personal attack of a student) situations in your course when students communicate with each other on the message board, in a Wimba session, or via email.

  • Contact Information

Don’t forget to include traditional contact information. Students may still need to call you or send you materials in certain situations.

  • Communication Polices

Let students know your expectations up front. Include this information in your syllabus. Make sure that students understand the importance of deadlines, netiquette, and timeliness of responses. Model these expectations yourself. Also, clearly indicate the time you need to respond to emails (usually 24 to 48 hours) and to finish grading assignments. Otherwise, you will soon discover that many students have some fairly unrealistic expectations fostered by net culture.

Possible Pitfalls

  • More is better

Be careful of implying that the more students respond to a message board, the higher their grade will be. Stress quality of responses over quantity, or you will be inundated with a deluge of poorly drafted posts.

  • Synchronous chat without a plan

Wimba sessions can be very spontaneous. Without an agenda, it is very easy for real-time conversations to drift off topic.

  • Emailing everyone

Restrict your email usage to specific individual communication. If you do send reminders, and other general communication via email, be sure to phrase your message in such a way as to NOT inspire replies. Otherwise, you can find yourself answering a LOT of email from your students.

  • Too much information

Some students may disclose too much about themselves online. Keep an eye out for this and gently nudge them back toward appropriate behavior with personal emails and/or phone calls. A good rule of thumb to give your class is “if you wouldn’t share that in a face-to-face class, don’t share it online.” Icebreakers should be personable, not personal.

  • Humor

The online environment makes interpreting humor unpredictable at best. Not everyone, or every culture, expresses humor the same way. Especially, be leery of sarcasm, as it often appears mean or cruel online.

  • Multiculturalism

Lots of people take courses online. They come from all walks of life from all over the world. Even time zones can easily become and issue in an online course. Be sensitive to your students’ needs.