Communication is much more important to student success in online classes. It is needed to break the isolation sometimes felt by students and to bridge the differences in background (which can be greater in online classes).


There are two main types of online communication:



Examples Pros Cons
Synchronous (live)
chat, virtual classroom, office hours
  • more immediate
  • better sense of community
  • difficult to manage with many students (see the sidebar in Using Groups for advice)
  • distracting
  • hard to censor
  • difficult to grade

Asynchronous (posted)

email, messaging, discussions, announcements
  • more flexible for student schedules
  • convenient
  • better quality interaction since there is no rush



  • Community building
  • Should be updated at least once a week
  • Include: reminders of assignment due dates, comments on class progress, add interesting new information (news links, articles)

Discussions: see Handling Discussions


  • Can also give a sense of community and encourage more student-student interaction.
  • Results can be used in discussions.
  • Some give a survey at the start of the class that describes the course demographics and students expectations and attitude about the class.

Personal teacher-student and student-student contact:

Type Pros Cons
  • can send emails to student's preferred external email address
  • when you add students, their default email address may be incorrect or one that they do not use regularly (you MUST have them immediately check their email address in WebAdvisor)
  • emails can get "lost"
  • hard to track tons of emails from many sources in your inbox (consider setting up a separate gmail accounts for each class see "forwarding email")
  • can be blocked by spam filters
Inbox Messages
  • Inbox messages are sent through email
  • there is a record of all interactions in a course
Written Work Feedback
  • entered in assignment "Comments" 
  • besides assignment discussion, these can include personal issues as a better substitute for email

Email Advice:

  • Be sure that students have their correct email listed in WebAdvisor or you will not be able to contact them. Any changes made to email addresses in WebAdvisor will be transferred to Canvas within 24 hours.
  • Besides a welcome email (see Orientation), you might also include and end-of-course goodbye email including their final grade.
  • Be sure to save all emails and messages to and from students throughout a semester in case of disputes.