In face-to-face courses, students have the luxury of benefiting from questions asked while in the classroom or the ability to stop by your office to discuss an issue they might be having. In both cases they get the chance to interact with you and possibly some of their fellow classmates.
Sometimes, students find it challenging to find that same connection in an online, hybrid or web-enhanced environment. The good news is that with Blackboard and other learning management systems, you can create a virtual space where your students can experience the same kind of connection and feedback they receive in their brick-and-mortar classrooms.
Using a virtual office in your online/hybrid/web-enhanced courses provides many benefits. For the purpose of this blog post, we will focus on three. Using a virtual office:
- puts the instructor in the course
- cleans up email inboxes
- promotes the use of Blackboard (the LMS or Learning Management System)
The virtual office puts the instructor in the course
Placing a photo of yourself, your contact information and a little biographical info can go a long way toward helping your student see you as a person and not some synthetic-robot version of yourself. If you want to go the extra mile, replace the photo with a quick Intro or Welcome video that can bring out your personality and help the students get to know you.
By subscribing to your own virtual office discussion forum you will receive prompts when questions are posted. These prompts will help you engage with your students in a timely fashion and make the students feel like you are in the course.
The virtual office cleans up e-mail inboxes
Let’s face it, we all “misplace” e-mail. For some of us, our inbox receives a hundred new messages or more each day. Why not make life easier on you and your students by reserving course-oriented email for things of a personal or private nature. Have your students post general course questions to the virtual office discussion forum. When you answer questions via e-mail the only people that see that correspondence are you and the student. If a question is answered in a public space like the virtual office, everyone benefits.
You may have to use the first week of the course as a “training week” where you ensure you point your students to the virtual office for answers to course questions. Make it a requirement in your syllabus, an expectation on your course expectations page and a question on your Syllabus quiz to ensure students know where to go.
BONUS: The virtual office builds a course FAQ over the course of a semester that you can then use as part of your next semester’s course.
The virtual office promotes the use of Blackboard (the LMS)
The more time a student is spending in your course, the more connected they are to what is happening. When your students establish the habit of checking the course regularly, they will be more engaged and more successful.
Encouraging your students to check the virtual office daily will get them in your course and connect them to the information and activities they need to conquer course objectives.