To many online students, the instructor is simply a person on the other side of the computer screen who they never see. The instructor grades the discussion posts, essays, and responds to student emails. It is rare the student and instructor speak on the phone and even more rare they ever see each other in person. Therefore, the lack of human interaction can become lost. As online instructor’s, it is necessary we show our human side in the classroom. Not only through being enthusiastic with the subject matter but showing our personal side as well.
I had a student email me that her nine-month-old son was in the hospital because he was having seizures. She asked for an extension on her assignment, which I gladly granted. She made up the work and continued to participate in class. During the last two weeks of class she went silent. I knew something had to be seriously wrong with her son so I sent her an email. I asked how he was doing and offered support and encouragement. I reminded her what a good student she was and that she submitted quality work. I encouraged her to finish the course because she owed it to herself and her son. Days went by before I heard from her.
When I received a reply, she explained how her son had emergency cranial remodeling surgery, which interfered with her submitting a recent assignment. Next she wrote, “However, I read your email and that put things into perspective for me. It allowed me to realize why I decided to return to school. My son needs this more than ever and I can't let him down. I was ready to quit Wednesday but reading your email helped me. I need to have faith.”
Not only did my email put things into perspective for her, but her reply did the same for me. As online instructor’s we are given guidelines to follow in the classroom. We are required to adhere to the late policy and grant extensions only when absolutely necessary, such as a medical emergency. We are required to have a professional tone, provide constructive feedback, and be active a certain number of days in the classroom. It can sometimes be lost that our human side is allowed to show. We are allowed to show empathy and compassion. Students need the support from an instructor they cannot visually see. Sometimes all we have as an online instructor are words written in text and they matter significantly.
We must learn to let our personal side show when working with students who we know take the class seriously and are struggling with serious issues outside the classroom. We have all been there taking on a heavy course load while balancing some of the unexpected challenges life throws at us. Sometimes all a person needs is someone to understand and provide a little faith and encouragement.
As online instructor’s it is our responsibility to offer students support to help them reach their educational goals. Online learning can be an isolating environment. The classroom can feel silent when there is a lack of enthusiasm, participation, and interaction. One of our roles is to let our human side shine in our classroom making online learning feel natural and engaging. Students need to know we are not robots. We have feelings and emotions and want the best for them. We care about their success. We take the time each week to provide detailed qualitative feedback to help them succeed. While that may be enough for some students, others need more from us. They need to know we have compassion while still following university guidelines. It is about balancing our human side with our professional side to make our work successful in reaching students.
Here are a few suggestions about how you can show your human side:
- Post your picture. Let students put a name with a face.
- If your school allows it, post a friendly welcome video (about 2 minutes) introducing yourself and your expectations for the class.
- Email students who are struggling and offer resources and support. If that fails, try giving them a call. You would be surprised how receptive a student can be!
- Post motivational quotes. This is a great way to keep students striving forward.
- Post motivational videos. I like posting “Shots of Awe” videos. They are about three minutes long and offer some great messages and sometimes align with course material if you teach psychology, sociology, or humanities.
- Post updates in the classroom recognizing everyone’s hard work. Say why you are proud, such as using critical thinking skills on a recent assignment or how the class critically analyzed a discussion question together.
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About the Author
Dorothy A. Miraglia, PhD
Dorothy A. Miraglia, PhD earned her B.S. in Music and Sociology from Adelphi University. She attended Hofstra University earning her M.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies and earned a M.S. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the University of Phoenix.. Dr. Miraglia graduated with distinction from Capella University earning her PhD in Advanced Studies in Human Behavior focusing her dissertation on smartphone use in women.
She began teaching online in 2008 and has witnessed how the industry has changed over the years. Her goal is to help clients who are interested in transitioning to the online teaching world and help established online instructors advance their career. In 2019, she began helping University clients determine the best solutions for instructional design and curriculum development based off of her experience and knowledge as an instructor and former student.
Dr. Miraglia lives on Long Island, NY with her husband and two sons. She enjoys the luxury of working from home and having a flexible work schedule, which allows for plenty of family time, home projects, trips to Target and Starbucks, and vacations.