Many online colleges use Zoom for video conferencing. In distance learning, this is the closest thing that students and professors can get to face-to-face connection. However, many times, students turn their cameras off, which defeats its purpose and often disheartens the teachers.
Many professors encourage their fellow educators to shift their point of view and be a bit more understanding of their students. They also advise other ways to keep their presence alive despite having so many black Zoom boxes.
Build virtual connections
Students have more motivation to learn when they feel a sense of belonging. So, Dr. Jennifer Honeycutt, Psych/Neuro Professor at Bowdoin College, replicates the community connection online by holding short one-on-one meetings with her students at the beginning of the term. She uses this time to answer questions, address concerns about the course, and encourage the students to develop actionable learning goals. Midway through the course, Dr. Honeycutt also checks in on her students’ progress.
Thomas J. Tobin, a faculty developer, encourages students to find a “study buddy” for them to build connections. He also shared Penn State University’s program about how students can establish relationships with their peers and instructors.
How to maintain social presence from a distance
Jasmine Roberts, a lecturer at Ohio State University School of Communication, brings her authentic self into the classroom by sharing her mental health journey on the first day of the class. She said that teaching with mental health in mind is a core part of her teaching philosophy. Professor Roberts explained that showing her vulnerability humanizes her. It makes her students feel more comfortable approaching her when they need to talk to her outside of class.
According to Dr. Jenae Cohn, Director of Academic Technology at Sacramento State, educators should not hesitate to bring their whole and entire selves into the classroom while setting up their boundaries. She recommends engaging in conversations about their families, hobbies, pets, current events, etc. as this helps lower the barrier between teachers and students.
Meanwhile, Dr. Lee Skallerup Bessette, Learning Design Specialist at CNDLS – Georgetown University, advised educators to be open and honest about their “on” and “off” hours for answering students’ questions and responding to their emails. She also encourages students to set similar boundaries for them to unplug and disconnect from their screens and studies.