Improving Digital Communication Between Faculty and Students: Takeaways from the Explorer Café session

Last week’s Explorer Café, entitled Did You Read My Email? Managing Expectations in a Digital Environment, focused on how faculty and students prefer to communicate outside of class time. Inspired by a series of poll questions that were posted to the myLasalle portal last Spring, this session featured a dialogue between students, faculty, and staff about their preferences for communication tools, response times, and feedback, among other topics. Read on for each poll question and the community responses.

During the Explorer Café, a panel of students, staff, and faculty responded to key questions based on these poll responses and encouraged feedback and opinions from the audience about how the La Salle community uses digital tools to communicate. Looking at specific themes, there were some interesting discussions about how the community uses email, Blackboard, and social media.

Portal_Poll

Email

One key theme of the discussion involved the importance of La Salle email for staying in communication. In one of the portal polls, 60% of nearly 1500 student respondents voiced their preference for using email to communicate with their instructors between classes. Some students commented that they are in the habit of checking La Salle email multiple times a day. Both the students and instructors at the Explorer Café agreed, adding that email is preferred because it is a service available to everyone on campus and accessible on multiple devices.

However, the participants concluded that it is important for instructors to establish a few guidelines at the start of the semester about their email policies, such as how quickly they will respond to student questions and how quickly they expect students to respond back to them. In another one of the portal polls, 69% of students shared the expectation that they should receive a reply to an email to their instructor within 24 hours. The faculty members on the panel and in the audience mentioned that this may not be feasible if they have a large class, if the emails come in on the weekends, or if students wait to ask important questions about assignments until right before the due date. These variables provide all the more reason for instructors to be clear about their expectations and encourage students to plan ahead to get the support they want.

Instructors and students also discussed how different people can have varying standards for how formal or informal email communications should be. If instructors have certain expectations for how students should write emails, students appreciate when that is made clear to them. Having a clear email policy included in the course syllabus can prevent communication misunderstandings between faculty and students as well as help to set important email norms that students will need to adopt when they seek professional jobs in the future.

Blackboard

Students expressed their preference for having course materials posted to Blackboard, including syllabi, PowerPoint files, and readings. Though, they also mentioned that they don’t check Blackboard unless they are told to or because instructors may provide the same information through duplicate channels. To facilitate student use of Blackboard, instructors can use the announcements tool or class email tool to let students know when they need to check in.

Students also mentioned that most of their instructors do not use the My Grades tool to keep students informed about their grades and overall performance in their courses, though quite a few mentioned that this would be helpful. While some students said they still prefer paper for assignments, most like the option to submit digital copies through Blackboard. Collecting assignments through Blackboard allows instructors to make better use of the Blackboard grade center and makes it more convenient for students to check their grades online.

Finally, students voiced some interest in having access to more tools that allow them to collaborate with their peers outside of class. Tools like Blackboard discussions, web conferencing in Collaborate, and Instant Messaging programs have the potential to improve academic outcomes, but experienced faculty cautioned that adopting new tools is time consuming and instructors must be willing to make adjustments to their normal instructional practices.

Social Media

The students, staff, and faculty at the Explorer Café generally felt that instructional or academic use of Twitter and Facebook might not be appropriate. These were considered more personal venues for communication and expression. Instead, it was felt that LinkedIn is a more comfortable platform for students and instructors to connect. If instructors do want to use social media for instructional purposes, they can encourage students to create new and separate accounts that are to be used for their academic voice.

Continuing to Exploring Digital Communication on Campus

The Did You Read My Email? Explorer Café was a productive opportunity for faculty, staff, and students to share their ideas and expectations. Session facilitators Greer Richardson of the Education Department and Peggy McCoey of Math and Computer Science plan to continue these types of conversations in other venues around campus.

Please get in touch with La Salle’s ID team if you want to discuss your use of digital tools and ways to use them successfully with your students. Also, let us know in the comments if you have something to share about how the La Salle community uses digital tools to communicate!