By Meegie Wheat and Xzandria Toombs

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

Communication with students in online classes should be frequent, intentional, and multifaceted. As an online instructor, it is important to actively combat distance and silence to make meaningful connections with your students. Below are three ways to effectively communicate with your students.

Use Communication Tools to Your Advantage

Canvas Inbox can be used to communicate with individual students or the entire class.

  • Your personal voice and tone have an important impact in written material.
  • Use student names and inclusive language (we, you, our) in emails to help build relationships.
  • Use Inbox to provide a confidential environment for students to seek help.
  • Canvas course announcements are an excellent way to communicate with the whole class. Encourage your students to actively participate in being informed by  pdfsetting their Canvas Notifications.
  • Use a neutral, balanced tone in all communications to describe course content and for interpersonal communication for the entire class.
  • Send reminder announcements to help students stay on track of upcoming submissions.
  • Set the tone for a supportive online learning community.
  • Announcements can be used to link students to course-related content, external resources, and webpages URLs.

Provide Channels for Feedback

Giving and receiving feedback helps to compensate for the lack of physical cues in the online environment. When students turn in assignments, they expect to see more than a score or a few boxes checked on a rubric. Assignment feedback can be a great way to show your personality and your investment in your students’ progress.

  • Set clear expectations: Quality Matters asks that “the instructor’s plan for classroom response time and feedback on assignments is clearly stated.” Let students know what kind of feedback you will be providing and when they will hear back from you. Then deliver!
  • Provide robust written feedback: While it can save time to develop a template for feedback, detailed, constructive feedback is key to making a connection with your students.
  • Record feedback: For longer written assignments, try using audio comments in Canvas for students to review. Using this feature will allow students to hear your voice and a little bit about the thought process behind your notes.

Open the Lines of Communication

Robinson, Segal, and Smith (2015) stated that “Effective communication is also a two-way street. It’s not only how you convey a message so that it is received and understood by someone in exactly the way you intended, it’s also how you listen to gain the full meaning of what’s being said and to make the other person feel heard and understood.”

Invite students to ask questions about your message if they don’t understand. Offer alternative ways to communicate, by encouraging students to take advantage of your office hours listed on the syllabus. Some questions to consider in determining if students are understanding and responding to your communication methods are:

  • Did my students get/acknowledge my message?
  • Did my communication achieve the desired outcome?
  • Did my students ask follow-up questions?


  • Merrill, H. (2004). Best practices for online facilitation. Adult Learning, 14, 2, 13– 16.
  • Robinson, L., Segal, J. and Smith, M. (July 2015). “Effective communication: Improving communication skills in your personal and work relationships.” Helpguide.org