Keep it specific: Creating a communication plan for you and your students

Being specific is really important for creating a communication plan for your class. Let students know how you will communicate with them, how often, and when.  Set expectations for how quickly your response time will be.  Give students information on how and when you will give feedback.  Also, be specific about how they can give you feedback.  For instance, will you have a mid-term course evaluation? Will you have a discussion board thread on Canvas reserved for questions and resource sharing? Should they email you directly?

Last semester, I included my communication plan as part of a Canvas welcome message before the semester started. This year, I intend to include my communication plan in a welcome message as well as my syllabus.  My welcome message included how I would communicate with my students (via Canvas messaging or via Pitt email for last-minute cancellations or emergencies) and that I would respond within 24 hours.  It is also important to explain why I wanted them to communicate through Canvas—because it’s much easier to keep track. We shouldn’t expect our students to read our minds, so I find it helpful to apply a “why are we doing this” approach.

In the welcome message, I also talked about office hours and encouraged them to use the many options we had for engagement.  I plan to keep using virtual office hours as well as in-person office hours to allow for flexibility.  While this may not seem like something to put in a communication plan, I think being super specific about office hours and how students can use them is important. This is especially helpful for first-generation students who might not be used to seeking additional help or mentorship through office hours.

Another tactic that I used was posting a weekly announcement every Sunday or Monday, where I summarized the week ahead. I would tell them the topics that we would cover that week, any deliverables, and reiterated due dates. You can send the message out as a Canvas post or record a video clip. In my weekly messages, I also tried to send some positive vibes.  Things like, let’s have a good week!  Go out and enjoy the sunshine, everyone needs some vitamin D! Jam to some good music to restore your soul. Sometimes, it was a quote that resonated with me or a funny meme. A lot of students told me that was their favorite part of the weekly messages. It also helps students understand your personality and who you are as a person!

Finally, since I used SPECS grading in my course last semester, I would also give updates on where the class stood grade-wise, based on what modules they completed. This helped to reinforce the grading scheme. I focused more on these types of messages towards the end of the term. 

This is what I have done for my communication plan. For more ideas, Google “using a communication plan for your syllabus” and remember to be specific!



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