Communication and interaction between you as the instructor and your students, and among the students themselves, are key to a successful online learning experience. Well-designed and facilitated communications contribute to teaching, cognitive, and social presence in an online class.

Since you may not meet your online students in person, instructor to student and student to student communication is critical to helping students stay on track and learn effectively. In addition to discussing course content we recommend that online instructors provide prompt feedback to students in the gradebook, via email, and in discussions. Feedback that is timely, constructive, and supportive increases student satisfaction and achievement.

Best practices:

  • Provide a clear overview of the course and the best way for students to get started.
  • Set realistic expectations for your availability and how quickly you will respond to emails and/or questions posted in discussions. Do not set yourself up to be available 24/7.
  • Provide opportunities for students to get help with coursework virtually (e.g., Google Meet, Skype, phone).
  • Acknowledge learner contributions publicly and/or privately.
  • Provide prompt feedback.


You can use announcements to share timely information with your class, such as reminders, weekly updates, and schedule adjustments, as well as current news items and events related to your course content.

Best practices:

  • Use announcements consistently to maintain a presence in the course.
  • Let students know what to expect in the upcoming week.
  • Prepare announcements in advance to be scheduled for release each week of the semester.


Discussions are the heart of many online classrooms. This is one place where you "talk" asynchronously with your students. Generally discussions are focused on a dialogue among students as well as with the instructor. Just as you might in a seminar class, facilitate the discussion by giving students an opportunity to discuss course content and answer questions before you weigh in.

Best practices:

  • Avoid setting yourself up to be available 24/7.
    • Participate in online discussions frequently and consistently.
    • Consider that many students will post in discussions late at night or on weekends.
    • Proactively manage expectations for when you will be participating in the discussions.
    • Schedule a brief time each day to log in to read and respond to discussions.
  • Provide guidelines for what and how you expect students to participate in discussions.
  • Engage with students in the discussions.
  • Encourage students to interact and discuss the course content with each other.
  • Provide outlets for students to connect and get to know each other.
  • Use questioning effectively to promote meaningful learning outcomes.
  • Create cooperative learning opportunities to allow students to learn from one another.
  • Practice good "netiquette." Review Virginia Shea's "Core Rules of Netiquette" for tips.


Emailing online students can be very convenient. It is a useful tool for communicating privately with students, as well as prompting reticent students to participate more. However, if students come to rely on communicating with you via email rather than within the online classroom it can significantly increase your workload and lead to student dissatisfaction with the online learning experience.

We recommend that you encourage students to ask questions about the course content, syllabus, deadlines, and so on within the online discussion rather than by email so that the class as a whole can benefit from the answers -- and to save you extra work!

Best practices:

  • Email students before the class begins to let them know which, if any, textbooks are required and/or recommended for the class.
  • Set expectations for how quickly you will respond to email messages from students.
    • Ideally, instructors respond to emails within 1 business day.
    • Note exceptions, such as weekends or holidays, that may delay your response.
    • Consider when you will be able to answer the questions most students will have about the school work they do at night and on weekends.
  • Provide clear direction on how to best get their questions answered.
  • Maintain a balance between communicating with students via email versus in WebCampus.
  • Email students who have not logged in and/or participated in class for a period of time.


The gradebook in WebCampus allows you to communicate with students about their work beyond a numerical or letter grade. As mentioned above, feedback that is timely, constructive, and supportive increases student satisfaction and achievement.

Best practices:

  • Use the gradebook effectively to provide timely feedback to students.
  • Develop and use clear rubrics that you have shared in advance with students.
  • Provide feedback about student work beyond just a numerical or letter grade.
  • Don't try to comment on everything. Focus on the key items that will help student achievement in the future. Include positive feedback as well as areas for improvement.

Video Conferencing

You can use video conferencing tools such as Google Meet to hold virtual office hours or allow a guest speaker to join the class for a live discussion. You may want to encourage your students to use video conferencing to facilitate student group projects.

For fully online classes, requiring synchronous sessions (in which all students must log in and participate at the same time), even via video conferencing, may be challenging for some students. If you plan to have required meetings via video conferencing, we recommend scheduling the class as "web-based w/ on/off campus meeting" so that students are aware when they register that some synchronous meeting times will be required.

Best practices:

  • Keep in mind time zone differences when scheduling synchronous activities such as video conferencing.
  • Give students a chance to test and troubleshoot the video conferencing link, their microphone, camera, etc. prior to a required session.
  • Consider recording a video conferencing session for students who were not able to attend.
  • Log in to the conference a few minutes before the scheduled start so that you are "present" when students "arrive." This applies to virtual office hours as well as any synchronous course meetings.
  • Set clear expectations in the syllabus for when you are available for video conferencing if you choose to use it.
  • For group discussions via video conferencing, set the ground rules for taking turns speaking and turning off the microphone to avoid feedback when not speaking.
  • Sit in a location where you will not be interrupted and there are minimal distractions.
  • Remove anything in the background of that location that you prefer not to share with your students.


Additional Resources