Teaching Hub

Three Ways to Construct Supportive Online Courses

by Jaimie Choi, Department of Psychology

As COVID-19 swept the country, many of us have transitioned to virtual teaching, using diverse platforms that deliver online lectures. Unfortunately, despite the convenience of being able to lead a lecture in our pajama pants, there are many studies that cast light on the psychological pitfall that follows being trapped in a rectangular virtual space for an extended period of time.

One of the neglected elements from a student’s perspective is that they lose the opportunity to communicate among themselves during this virtual campus experience, which leads to a lost opportunity to make meaningful social interactions. Being social creatures, we are bound to yearn for meaningful human interactions that ensure a sense of belongingness. The sense of belongingness is one of the core elements that can directly impact depression and wellbeing (see Gariepy et al., 2016).

As psychological wellbeing attributes greatly to the students’ academic performance (see Leighton et al., 2016), it is imperative that we don’t let it slip through the crack in the virtual world.

There are some active things we can do during our online lectures that can help promote students’ healthy mental wellbeing as well as academic endeavors:

A quick check-in before class

Right before you start the class, simply checking in with how they feel in general can help create a welcoming environment where students’ voices are heard. Simply having students “raise their hands” if they are feeling good, bad, exhausted, or whatever may be appropriate for the context can help students feel that they are all in it together, good or (and) bad.

A quick debate session using breakout rooms

Sure, it can be a bit cumbersome to create breakout rooms, but you can ask students at the end of the class which side they stand prior to the debate session, and then pre-assign students accordingly to their answers they’ve already provided. This may not have to be a common occurrence that regularly happens in every class, but incorporating a couple of these sessions can effectively promote a feeling of “team” at the beginning of the semester. Not only is this helpful for encouraging to have a sense of community, but it also can help active engagement and learning, as well.

An extra office hour for help and support

A recent study shows that feeling understood and valued can prevent burnout and enhance their wellbeing (see Linos, Ruffini & Wilcoxen, 2019). Considering how non-stop meetings via virtual windows can be exhausting (Hello, 2020 Zoom-fatigue!), providing a chance for students to request help actively and have their concerns heard regarding the course can boost their morale and learning while reducing their stress and fatigue.

Additionally, phrasing your help in the form of advice, rather than feedback, can be more productive since it allows the students to have more actionable plans (see Yoon et al. 2019). Rather than providing criticisms, although we mean well and they are supposed to be constructive, phrasing it as advice for future performance can be instrumental for students’ growth.

two people talking at a table