Whether you’re sending an email, posting in a discussion forum, or chatting online, digital communications can be tricky, as there no allowance for tone of voice or facial expressions. It can also be difficult to strike a balance between explaining things clearly and keeping things concise. What’s more, how can you ensure your communications are building instructor presence in our now online-only classroom and helping support students who may be stressed out by these changes to their learning experience?

While it can be challenging to navigate digital communications anytime, and especially so during COVID-19 times, here are some best practices that can help keep you on course this fall.

Let your personality shine through. Your students (and colleagues for that matter) need to feel connected right now. So let your warmth, humor, etc. show through in your communications. While you still want to keep it professional, don’t be afraid to build presence through something as simple as a funny email or a short video that lets students see you as a person, not just their instructor.

Keep communication a two way street. In everything that you do to keep in contact, make sure it’s clear that communication is encouraged both ways. Let students know how and when to contact you. Be available for online office hours, respond to emails in a timely manner (whatever that means to you, but stick to it), and be present in online discussions. Encourage questions, discussions, feedback and engagement whenever possible!

Use communications judiciously. We all have overflowing inboxes at the best of times, perhaps even more so now that virtual communications are often are the primary avenues of contact, so don’t bombard students with too many updates. It’s often not clear to students what emails are important and which can wait to be read, so when you send something out, make sure there’s a real purpose for it so that everything that comes from you is a “must-read.”  

Keep up morale. It’s easy to fall into negative thinking in a time with so much upheaval and uncertainty. For that reason, keeping communications positive right now is key. Try to lead with the good news and keep students motivated and moving forward, even if they’re feeling frustrated. You never know who needs a little positive encouragement to get through the day.

Check and double check. One of the very annoying things about digital messages is that once they’re sent, they’re sent for good (generally speaking, anyway). That’s why it’s so important to a check for any typos or errors multiple times before sending. Check your due dates and course calendars, click on links to confirm they’re functional, and ensure that you’re sending things to the right person or group all before hitting send.

Be clear. Who doesn’t love a beautifully written sentence? But right now isn’t the time for flowery language. Keep things clear, concise, and free of distractions. If you have important information to convey, make sure that is front and center and easy to find for all students. That doesn’t mean you have to erase everything else, but don’t hide the important stuff.

Branch out. This is a great time to branch out in your communications. Try out Twitter! Start using some other discussion tools. Maybe even record a video. It might push you outside of your comfort zone, but there truly is no better time than now to learn some new skills and expand your means of keeping in touch with students and colleagues.

Have ideas you want to share about digital communications? Let us know! We can feature you in your own blog post or add them to our list.