Our students face a similar struggle for motivation due to being isolated from their classmates and us. They join our program because of its flexibility. They do not realize the flip side, which is that flexibility as an online learner—especially in an accelerated program at Indiana Wesleyan University—comes at a price.

Student motivation quickly plummets when students are not close in proximity to their instructors or classmates. While some students cope with this by pursuing their degree at an IWU education center, others live too far away. Retention can become an issue.

This is the second in a two-part series on the struggle of isolation for online instructors, contributed by Lisa Carriere, adjunct faculty in the Division of Liberal Arts. This post discusses the struggle online students face with isolation and how faculty can help them.

Creative Community Building

I have found that successful students learn to find substitutes for the onsite classroom. For my beginning writing students, I give a sample schedule for the week’s tasks. This helps students to break down the workshop tasks into manageable parts. It also provides the kind of accountability normally offered by a traditional college classroom setting.

Another measure that helps is finding a “pseudo-classroom.” Students can make their own classroom by working on course projects in a coffeehouse. Normally other people are working on their laptops there as well. Or, a student can find a public library or local university library to be around others who are studying.

Helpful Resources

Another way you can help your students is by finding ways to help them connect more with you. This also provides connection to the class, which boosts motivation and learning as well. Here are some measures that have and have not worked for me:

  • Chat sessions have not worked. While this seems like a natural solution, the value of flexibility is high for online adult learners. They will rarely commit to a particular time.
  • Instead, try giving your students “office hours.” These are available times in your day in which you are extending the offer for them to call. When you set aside time for them, they realize that they now have an invitation to call you. At the same time, you may wish to also give them times that you are not available.
  • If you don’t want to hand out your phone number, create a Google Voice number and forward it to your cell phone. If you cannot take the call at the moment, you can screen calls and review voicemail transcripts easily. Your own cell phone number stays private.
  • If personal contact seems troubling to you, try video announcements. Surprisingly, some students think that we are robots instead of real people. Videos assure our students of our humanness and give us a way to connect to them as they watch us.
  • Oral feedback on papers is easily possible through Assignment Grader, an iPad app for Brightspace. I provided this for a lesser assignment—not a paper—and asked students what they thought. The feedback surprised me; in some ways, students liked it more than written feedback.

Question: What is one way in which you will seek to connect more with your remote students? Please leave a comment below.

Lisa Carriere / Adjunct Faculty, Division of Liberal Arts

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