The best way to get close to students? Teach a course online

Teaching an online course is the best way to understand how college students communicate and relate to one another

I feel especially close to the 50 college students I taught in two back-to-back summer sessions. What made the experience so unusual was that my relationship with each of them was purely a digital one because both classes were taught online.

My students easily adapted to a digital professor whom they became acquainted with online through my weekly video lectures they were required to watch. The students seemed unusually comfortable in a digital world. I, on the other hand, had a difficult time adapting.

Technology facilitates real-time connections
My online classes had no formal meeting times. Students were required to post daily comments on a private group Facebook page, and ask questions via email or text. Once I started responding to their posts, I began to feel a stronger connection to the students than I do in a traditional classroom.

I was checking the class Facebook page one night at 11 p.m. when a student posted a video from a Phillies game he was attending. His post showed a product featured on a billboard at the stadium. He explained that he now understood the role of sponsorships, thanks to that week’s reading assignment. I quickly responded and we went on to have a conversation during the 9th inning of the game I was also watching at home on ESPN. For the first time, technology enhanced my connection to a student.

It happened again the next morning. Another student posted a photo of a retailer we were studying as she walked to her internship at 7:30 a.m. in New York City. I was online at the moment of her post. As with my baseball fan student the night before, we had a short digital conversation to confirm her observation and learning experience.

For 10 straight weeks this summer, I was able to communicate with my students as they experienced the course material in their everyday lives. It added an enormous sense of authenticity and connection to the learning process.

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