Communicating with Students Remotely

Reassure Students and Let Them Know You are There!

As instructors, we often must balance rigor and support, and this situation might be one where students will need more support than rigor. Establishing continuity doesn’t mean you increase the amount of work required of them. Some of us might be fixated on the rigor of the materials presented. Let’s face it -- the rigor may suffer, and that’s OK considering the situation.

  • Use hopeful and optimistic language, such as, “When you come back this fall …” This will help students look forward to coming back to the campus.
  • Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. If possible, talk about COVID-19 and fear. This is an opportunity for you to remind your students to consider the sources of their news and to beware of the large amount of misinformation. You can also use EMU Library's resource page on news evaluation.
  • Remember that students have left behind more than just their classes and academics. Many student are also suffering the loss of employment.  Unlike a physical classroom, students online are in different places now, living different lives. Highlight students' individual experiences by encouraging them to share those distinct experiences and help them tap such experiences in their coursework. Consider creating a community discussion board in Canvas for them (and you) to share what is happening in their lives, especially given the stress, fear and strains in these uncertain times. 
  • Most important, ask each of your students how you can help them.

Read More: this link will take you to a library of articles on teaching and supporting students remotely.

Communication Venues

Instructors, you have many technological options on how to interact with students for answering questions and concerns for course instruction and program advising. Allow yourself to be flexible and work with technologies they are comfortable with AND work within the technology limitations that your students might have.

Technologies beyond email:

Email - Quick Turn-around is Key

Answering questions from students by email is acceptable, however, it is inefficient and problematic if communication is taking too long between questions and answers.  Remember, some students work on assignments long into the night and have expectations of hearing back from you instantly. Let students know your remote working hours and how long before they will hear back from you (24-48 hours). Emails need to be exchanged within a reasonable time, and this turn-around time needs to be upheld by both the instructor and student to work.  Alternatives to email are virtual conferencing with Zoom or Google Meet.

Tips for Advising and Office Hours

Google calendar has a method of "adding appointment slots to a calendar".  Get the directions to set that up.


Scheduling a student advising appointment is one task; how to conduct the advising appointment remotely is a different and separate task. Each department has its own method for how students make advising appointments. Based on the way your department handles advising appointments, it should be communicated how the process of setting up appointments has stayed the same or is different while working remotely.

  • If you set up your own appointments, you can inform students to use the Google calendar option for setting up the appointment. See tips for advising and office hours above for details.
  • Conducting advising appointments: Instructors can meet with students via Google Hangout/Meet, Zoom, Facetime, Adobe Connect. Which ever video conferencing method they like the best and are most comfortable with.

Office Hours

Answering student questions for course instruction: Office Hours and urgent random questions from students' email - going back and forth with answering questions by email is acceptable, however, it is inefficient and problematic if the people communicating take too long between questions and answers. If the question is urgent and requires a timely answer, emails need to be exchanged within a reasonably quick turnaround time. This turn-around time needs to be upheld by both the instructor and student to work.

  • Office Hours - Instructors can set up Hangout meeting for their office hours. To do so, you can first Create a Google Calendar appointment. Make it repeat for all the sessions they want to hold within a week. Add web conferencing with Hangouts, and then send the link to students. If it is created in one repeating meeting then the one link will work for all sessions. The cool part about this is it is like person-to-person Office Hours. The instructor is waiting in Google Hangout (at the link you provided students) and is ready when any student pops into the session. Once the student gets the question answered, they can pop out of the session. It works great!

Share these Self-Care Tips with Your Students

1. Limit information Intake

Stay informed by tuning in to reliable, fact-based reporting, and do not feel like you have to read every piece of Coronavirus news. Setting limits on your screen time and turning off notifications for a couple of hours can be a healthy boundary.

2. Look after yourself

Focus on the things you can control, like maintaining good hygiene. Where possible, maintain your daily routine and normal activities: eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep, and doing things you enjoy. It is still okay to take a walk, meditate, and exercise at home. These can help you relax and have a positive impact on your thoughts and feelings.

3. Reach out to others and support those around you

Keeping in touch with your friends and family may ease the stress caused by COVID-19. Talking through your concerns and feelings may help you find ways of dealing with challenges. Receiving support and care from others can bring a sense of comfort and stability.

4. Acknowledge your feelings

It is normal to feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious or upset, among a wide range of other emotional reactions, in the current situation. Allow yourself time to notice and express what you’re feeling. This could be by writing them down in a journal, talking to others, doing something creative, or practicing meditation.

5. Ask for professional support

Follow protection and prevention recommendations provided by qualified health professionals. If all of this does not help, consider reaching out for support by a professional counselor or peers. Peer support is usually organized on a local or national basis so it is best to start your search with those in your local area so that you can actually talk with someone who knows what is available.  

For a comprehensive list of resources for you and students, go to the Provost's Office webpage.

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