Effective teachers are effective, whether classes are in person or online! They care all students learn and are creative in fostering connections, with students and among students. Regardless of the disciplines or the level of classes.
Why are connections important? They make the teacher and students responsive to each other. When a teacher knows their students, they care and put the focus on student learning. When a student struggles, they don’t assume that the student cannot learn or look for reasons that point at the student. And when a student knows that their teacher knows them and cares about their learning, the student cares too! They even apologize to the teacher for not doing well and explain what held them back. Here are some diverse examples for why connections make a difference from my experience with undergraduate students.
In one class, a Black female student began well initially, but started missing classes as the semester progressed. My repeated attempts to meet her during the semester failed. At the end, when it was clear that she would have to retake the course, we talked. She explained her struggles as a single parent of a baby in balancing education and her job. At the start of the next semester, I told her that I knew her potential and my expectations were high. She beamed at me as I handed back the first exam. I complimented her but made clear that her celebration was premature. She passed the course with a high B.
In another class, a white male student came to my office as I asked him to do, after he had failed the first exam. I asked why he did poorly on the exam. He said he thought he had studied well and was surprised at his performance. “I was surprised too!” I said as he looked at me in disbelief and repeated, “You were surprised?” I told him I certainly was because I had noticed him participate and answer questions in the class, and that he had done well on the quizzes. After that conversation and a few more, he too passed the course.
I invited a foreign student with a language problem to my office, when I realized she needed help. In addition to her language difficulty, I learnt that she missed classes due to a significant health problem. We had several one-on-one online meetings after that point. Since she was a transfer student, she didn’t know many in the class. Group activities helped her connect with a fellow student who made a difference for her. She passed the course as well.
Establishing connections is realistic whether classes are in person or online, but only if the classes are small. How to make that happen is a future topic.
A bit about me.
I have advised students of different races and genders from all over the world. Many of them stay connected even after years!