Thursday, November 17, 2016

Photos and Video Helps Connect Students and Teachers in Online Courses

A recent post at Extra Credit: The Canvas Blog discusses their findings that the use of video in online courses may help increase student retention—at least in larger courses. This reminded of a phenomenon that I noticed over the first few years I taught fully online courses: photos and video can help connect students and teachers.

After decades of teaching traditional face-to-face courses and web-enhanced courses, I transitioned to fully online courses. The first thing I struggled with was the seeming lack of personal connection with my students, and among my students.

I found that if I used a clear and "happy" photo in my LMS (learning management system) profile, students started recognizing me around town and reported that they felt more "connected" to me than before.  And more connected to me than their other online teachers with no profile photo—or an unclear or "not happy" photo.

Then I started prodding all my students to post profile pictures. Face pictures, not vacation photos taken in front of Niagara Falls and not photos of their dog or favorite child. No avatars, either. And you know what? I felt more personally connected to THEM!  And they found they felt a bit more connected to each other.

Then something wonderful and unexpected happened. It was a course I teach in an online graduate program that trains anatomy and physiology professors. I had been using the iSpring plugin for PowerPoint to create short presentations that introduce each learning module in the course. There was a software upgrade that allowed me to embed a video of me narrating alongside the slides and outline. I thought I'd try it to see how it worked.

I got immediate feedback from nearly every student in the course! They loved, loved, loved it. Not because of my amazing face or resonant voice—they just loved finally seeing and hearing me as I presented the introduction. They reported feeling more connected to me. 

That program has a required summer seminar at the home campus near the end of the program. When I go there now, the students who have taken my course in previous terms tell me that they feel like they already know me well because of those videos. They tell me they can better pick up on my style of conversation, my sense of humor, what I think is important in the course, and my enthusiasm for my subject. And they appreciate that.

So now I'll never go back. I'll always find a way to include video of myself somewhere in each online course I teach. Because part of teaching is being there for students. And video helps me do that.

Want to know more?

Want Lower Dropout Rates? Use Video (Part 1)

  • Jared Stein. Extra Credit: The Canvas Blog. 24 Oct 2016
  • Blog post that interprets results of a study by Instructure on the use of video in Canvas courses.

iSpring for PowerPoint

10 Ways to Increase Student Engagement Online

  • Dr. Al-Malood. Faculty Workshop. 16 Feb 2014
  • Podcast and blog post, with point #5 explaining the importance of profile photos.