Remote Class Attendance and Message Management

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By Joel Beaupré and Elan Paulson 

In the first weeks of remote course delivery, effective lines of contact and communication with students are of highest importance. Faculty may be preparing synchronous meetings and want to find ways to encourage students to attend. At the same time, they may be receiving messages from students seeking clarification about class instructions and activities.  

This teaching tip provides faculty with simple ideas that may improve synchronous class attendance and ensure that amount of email communications with students stays manageable.  

Three students point at a laptop monitor
Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

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Promoting Class Attendance 

Many of the ideas suggested below are adapted from strategies used to promote for promoting attendance in face-to-face classes.  

Be explicit: Describe to students that you believe attendance at synchronous meetings will be informative and beneficial for their learning. Tell students that you expect them to attend whenever possible.  

Provide value: Describe the reasons why you believe there is value in attending live synchronous discussions. Provide meaningful and relevant activities that build on course content. Give students time to work with each other in class time. 

Be enthusiastic: Students are more likely to be motivated to attend if you deliver lessons and activities that are engaging and interactive, and perhaps even incorporate some element of fun or social time. 

Continue to take attendance: Be transparent about record keeping every class. Reach out to students to inform them that repeated absences are noticed and ask whether there’s anything you can do to make synchronous classes more accessible to them.  

Address anxieties: Students might be anxious about the online meetings. State that you are flexible about students using video. Explain that recordings will remain for private study. Explain the multiple ways that you are giving students options to participate in remote synchronous classes.  

Meet in other ways: Instead of only using large-group classes, set aside times during the semester for 15-minute check-ins with students in one-on-one or small group meetings. Use a shared Word doc to organize and facilitate sign-ups. Use the Outlook calendar to manage your schedule.  

Give your best to whoever attends: Even when attendance is unexpectedly low, it is essential to teach to whoever is in the room. Class attendees will feel valued when you start on time, acknowledge their presence, and proceed with the lesson. 

Consider your expectations: You may try many ways to promote attendance, but still find that not everyone makes it to class. We cannot expect all students to be able to attend synchronous classes, even if it occurs in the timetabled class time. There are simply too many possible impediments, such as accessing reliable internet, finding appropriate workspace, managing childcare responsibilities, etc.

Reach out: By connecting early and often with students through Conestoga email, faculty can minimize the chances that students will struggle with absence or engagement in a remote class. Download these email templates to communicate with students who are absent or disengaged.

While we certainly hope that many students can attend live and feel the sense of shared community and learning, moderating your expectations will allow you to shift some of your time to other valuable teaching activities, such as finding asynchronous ways to engage the class.

Managing Email Communication

The volume of emails from students at the beginning of term can be unwieldy. Help to manage the amount of emails that you receive with the strategies below. 

Create a classroom communications policy: Ensure that the policy clearly sets out to students the reasonable time they can expect a response from you. Also, describe specifically how and when students should send questions. Explain that course questions may receive a group response if there are many students asking the same question. Note that if many students are asking the same questions, faculty may want to review their course information to see what is creating confusion.  If you create a short communication policy video, it may be reused across other courses.

Use eConestoga tools: Rather than field individual, private messages, create a general forum discussion thread for course-related questions. Monitor the thread but encourage students to answer each other’s questions if they can. Pre-schedule announcements and reminders.

Develop an FAQ: Provide an FAQ with answers to common questions. Anticipate student questions by providing proactive course announcements. Have students make suggestions for additional questions.

Download Pulse: Encourage students to download Pulse (available via Apple or Google Play). This app provides and optimized format for students to view all their active courses in Brightspace. Remind students to use the app to check course emails and discussion threads daily. 

Do you have a strategy not listed here for promoting attendance and managing student email messaging in the first weeks of class? Leave a comment with your idea below! 

Want to learn more about strategies for taking attendance remotely? See the post, Take Remote Attendance in Synchronous Classrooms.

Joel Beaupré

Joel Beaupre holds an Honours B.A., a B.Ed. and M.Ed., and brings experience as a communications professor and curriculum consultant to his role as Teaching and Learning Consultant, as well as experience as a high school teacher in Sandy Lake First Nation, Ontario and Kuwait. Joel is available at the Doon and Guelph campuses. He is a qualified administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), and specializes in matters related to translating curriculum into teaching strategies.

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