By: Professor Julie Prosser, Psychology Department, Colorado State University

Before 2020, it was exciting to teach Psychology on campus. There were large lecture halls filled with students eager for information and connections. I was enthusiastic about each class and proud to have formed the relationships. I was so present and engaged with my students. I then had to learn how online students could connect with me.
I became frustrated with technology and less comfortable in the workplace when classes were offered online for the second half of spring semester. Because I was prerecording lectures and playing them “live,” for students who logged in during class I was more concerned with making sure they could find them than I was in connecting with them personally.
I wanted to rekindle the relationship. As a Psychology Instructor, it was clear to me how important these relationships were for student learning.
Going into the Fall 2020 semester, my decision was to give a live lecture via the internet platform, record each session and post them for students to access. Students have the option of synchronous or asynchronous access.

Three strategies to help you connect with students online
These are some strategies I used in my PSY100 virtual course this semester and found to be very successful.

Be Authentic
Being authentic is something that I strive to do, even in person classes. Online learning is a different environment. Being authentic is essential.
Students are having difficulty navigating online classes and assignments. It’s important to remind them that even instructors have their struggles. It helps students to understand the instructor and the instructor to be humane. Being authentic can foster empathy and understanding.
Sometimes, I do this by simply checking in with my students before class begins to allow them to be honest with me about their lives. Sometimes, I share my own struggles with them.
I remind them that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed, and that we are all in this together. Talking about student struggles and coping methods is especially important when discussing Stress, Illness, and Health lectures.

Humor is a virtue
Humor is not for everyone.
Humor in lecture content can help students stay focused and present, while also reducing anxiety. This will allow instructors to be more effective in their delivery.
It is a great way to bond with your students through shared experiences, even if it is virtual. You also show that you are authentic and have a sense for humor. Students will be more likely to “show up” to class if they are able to use humor to encourage them to do so.
I use pop-culture references to humor. For example, clips from The Office and the Big Bang Theory where Sheldon uses operant conditioning in order to influence Penny’s behavior. To demonstrate psychological concepts, I also use memes or gifs.
Finally, I use humorous personal anecdotes to connect to the content that students will hopefully recall as they try to create their own examples as they study.

Be accessible
Students who are unable to see their instructor face to face may find it more difficult for them open up and seek help. Instructors can’t help students who are struggling if they don’t know.
We can only do our best to create as many opportunities for students to reach out as possible. We create opportunities to help and also provide opportunities for people to connect.
This semester, I have made myself more accessible by constantly sending reminders about my virtual office hours, by emailing students back faster, and even providing my personal cell number to my current 280 Psychology Students.
I have also spent more time monitoring the progress of individual students on one of my major projects and have emailed them all with gentle reminders and offers to help. Although it takes extra time, the goal is to let students know that I am still committed to their success, even if they aren’t there in person.
It is the little things that matter, and they add up. We can all make small steps to show our appreciation for students and increase our connection with them.

Questions to Consider
Each class and each group of students has different needs. These questions should be asked before you decide to make an effort to facilitate student connections within an online learning environment.