Communication tools

Your context

Even if you are new to online learning, you most likely have experience...

Communication tools are key catalysts for establishing connections and communities in support of social presence in online teaching and learning. Communication tools will be needed to reach out to your students, to connect your students with each other, and to work in partnership with other teaching and learning communities.

learning communities

Groups of students who engage in collective learning in a shared classroom or residential community.

Email and course announcements are standard methods for communicating with your students, and are tools which can easily enhance engagement in learning environments. Collaborative tools, such as discussion forums, virtual meeting spaces, and social media applications can be used to connect students with each other, and to build communities of learners. At the beginning of a course, it is a good idea to discuss the best time for virtual office hours and meetings with your students, and to let them know when you will be offline and unable to connect and communicate.

Numerous communication tools are available to support course facilitation and student engagement in your online teaching. Choosing which tool to use can be simplified by determining what types of learning relationships you want to create and how you intend to support them.

In the following activity, click on each card to find out more about the basic features of core communication tools and the approaches for integrating these tools into your online teaching.

The following paragraphs will explain more about the basic features of core communication tools and the approaches for integrating these tools into your online teaching.

Did you know?

Using email to communicate with students: It is good...

Email

Email is a familiar, private method for communicating with your students. You can send personal messages, or use email to communicate with your students as a group. It is good practice to keep email communication with students within your LMS/VLE; should you need to archive the course contents, you will then have a record of communication as well.


Announcements

Announcements provide easy access to pertinent information, and are typically prominently displayed within your LMS/VLE. Place a welcome message in the announcements area at the beginning of your course, and use the feature to send regular notifications and reminders to your students.


Discussion forums

Discussion forums enable seminar conversations, peer review, reflection on current events, debate-style role play assignments and exploration of topics and scenarios.


Chat

Voice, video and text chat enable quick real-time response/feedback. Screen-sharing (allowing the student/tutor to remotely observe/control a screen within the network) can be useful for virtual office hours.


Virtual meetings

Most LMS/VLEs include a virtual meeting utility, which can be used to host live lectures, guest speakers, student presentations, document sharing and discussion.


Social media

Social media communication tools enable peer-to-peer networking, the sharing of resources, and community building and support.

Key terms

Asynchronous: This refers to learning that can take place at any time. In other...

Foundations

This PDF provides additional insight into asynchronous and...

Synchronous and asynchronous tools

Online teaching communication tools are often separated into two categories:

  • Asynchronous tools enable communication and collaboration at different times, allowing you and your students to connect at your own convenience and schedule.
  • Synchronous tools enable you and your students to connect, exchange ideas, and collaborate in real time.

Asynchronous

Asynchronous learning can take place at any time. In other words, you and your students can access and participate in your online courses whenever you wish.

Synchronous

Synchronous learning takes place in real time; virtual meetings or other scheduled online events are examples of synchronous learning.

As you work through this unit, you will have the chance to further review the different features of communication tools, for both asynchronous and synchronous learning, and to determine the best way to integrate them into your own online or blended teaching approach. Exploring the features of these tools can inspire you to find new ways to engage with your students through supporting conversation and interaction, and maximising the exchange of knowledge.

In the following activity, you will be presented with a number of online learning communication tools. In each case, click on the communication tool and then click on the appropriate column according to whether you think it suits asynchronous or synchronous learning. Throughout, keep in mind the types of learning relationships that you want to create.
You will now be presented with a number of online learning communication tools and approaches. In each case, consider whether you think it suits asynchronous or synchronous learning. Then, continue on to check if you are correct.

Example communication tools and approaches

  • Broadcast events or happenings
  • Meet with students individually to discuss progress and resolve issues
  • Students meet to discuss course topics
  • Guest speaker or subject area expert series
  • Private conversation about progress through course
  • Spontaneous group meeting via social media application supporting instant messaging and voice and video chat
  • Peer review of student paper or project
  • Debate of current event or topic.

Now check to see if you are correct.

Synchronous tools

  • Students meet to discuss course topics
  • Meet with students individually to discuss progress and resolve issues
  • Spontaneous group meeting via social media application supporting instant messaging and voice and video chat
  • Guest speaker or subject area expert series

Asynchronous tools

  • Private conversation about progress through course
  • Debate of current event or topic
  • Peer review of student paper or project
  • Broadcast events or happenings.

Remember that active communication is a key factor in fostering student engagement, building peer networks, and sustaining a community of learners!


Your context

Even if you are new to online learning, you probably have experience using a variety of communication tools. Check with your institution for policies related to the use of course-based, institutionally hosted, and open source tools before you engage with your students in any of these media.

Did you know?

Using email to communicate with students

It is good practice to keep email communication with students within your LMS/VLE; should you need to archive the course contents, you will then have a record of communication as well.

When communicating privately with online students, particularly in a large class, there is a danger of becoming swamped with emails from students asking similar questions. A strategy to promote sustainable and scalable communications is to create a frequently asked questions (FAQ) discussion forum for course-related questions in your learning management system (LMS)/virtual learning environment (VLE). It is still your responsibility to visit this FAQ forum on a regular basis – or 'subscribe' to the discussion so that you receive notification of new questions – but you will often find that other students have answered the question before you do.

Key terms

Asynchronous: This refers to learning that can take place at any time. In other words, you and your students can access and participate in your online courses whenever you wish.

Synchronous: This refers to learning that takes place in real time, such as virtual meetings or other scheduled online events.

There can be some overlap between these definitions in practice: for example, a session with a live speaker could be recorded for some members of the group to listen to and comment on later if they are unable to participate in 'real time'.

Social presence: One of three supporting elements in the Community of Inquiry framework. Social presence is the degree to which participants in online environments feel affectively connected to one another.

Foundations