In face-to-face courses, students have the luxury of benefiting from questions asked while in the classroom, or the ability to stop by faculty offices to discuss an issue they might be having. In both cases, they get the chance to interact with faculty members, and possibly with some of their fellow classmates.
Sometimes students find it challenging to find that same connection in an online, hybrid or web-enhanced environment. The good news is that with Blackboard and other learning management systems, instructors can create a virtual space where students can experience the same kind of connection and feedback they receive in their brick-and-mortar classrooms.
Using a virtual office in online/hybrid/web-enhanced courses provides many benefits. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on three. Using a virtual office:
- puts the instructor in the course
- cleans up email inboxes
- promotes the use of Blackboard (the LMS or Learning Management System)
The virtual office puts the instructor in the course
By placing a personal photo, contact information, and a little biographical info, faculty members can go a long way toward helping students see them as individuals and not some synthetic version of themselves. For even better results, instructors can replace the photo with a quick Intro or Welcome video that can bring out their personality and help the students get to know them.
By subscribing to their own virtual office discussion forums, instructors will receive prompts when questions are posted. These prompts will help faculty members engage with students in a timely fashion, and make the students feel like the instructor is in the course.
The virtual office cleans up email inboxes
Everyone misplaces email from time to time. For some, an inbox receives a hundred new messages or more each day. Why not make life easier on everyone by reserving course-oriented emails for things of a personal or private nature? Instead, instructors can have students post general course questions to the virtual office discussion forum. When faculty members answer questions via email, the only people that see that correspondence are themselves and the student who sent the email. If a question is answered in a public space like the virtual office, everyone benefits.
Instructors may have to use the first week of the course as a “training week,” when they ensure that they point your students to the virtual office for answers to course questions. Faculty might even make it a requirement in the syllabus, an expectation on the course expectations page, and a question on the Ssyllabus quiz to ensure students know where to go.
BONUS: The virtual office builds a course FAQ over the course of a semester that instructors can then use as part of subsequent semesters' courses.
The virtual office promotes the use of Blackboard (the LMS)
The more time a student is spending in a course, the more connected they are to what is happening. When students establish the habit of checking the course regularly, they will be more engaged and more successful.
Encouraging students to check the virtual office daily will get them into the course, and connect them to the information and activities they need to conquer course objectives.