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Communicating with your students about the move to online classes

Posted by on Thursday, March 12, 2020 in Commentary, Resource.

by CFT assistant director, Joe Bandy

I just wrote my students an email (see below) that you can use as model of things you might say to your students in preparation for next week, if you haven’t considered something like this already.  Included in it is a link to a Google Forms survey I constructed to help gauge students’ needs.

Update: For another, briefer approach to student communication, see the end of this blog post.


Hi Everyone,

I hope each one of you is staying healthy and able to get home easily now that the campus has shutdown.  Given the stresses of the move and the uncertainty around COVID-19 (coronavirus), I know this email may not be your first priority right now, however when you are ready in the coming days please read through it carefully and follow up with the links, especially the survey.

Survey: To help reorganize the course, it would help me if you could complete the following short survey: view survey. It is completely voluntary, but it would help me in planning to meet your needs further.

Check Email: Please check your email frequently, since I will be using the email functions in Brightspace to communicate with you about courses, as will your other faculty, I am sure.

Use Brightspace as your class hub: We likely will be using a mix of videos, Google Documents (as normal), and teleconferencing using Zoom to substitute for in-class experiences.  However, to keep things simple, Brightspace will be the place to go for all of this, organized in the existing content modules/weeks that you see in the SOC 3314 course page. I will be posting new links in the usual module content areas along side the readings for each week to direct you to any virtual classrooms or other activities for that week, with announcements via email clarifying the plan.

Office hours: I also will have virtual office hours for those of you who need to talk with me.  That is, I will set up a virtual classroom where I will be available to discuss anything course related — course material, assignments, technological issues with the online format, etc. — and you can join me there at the usual times (links and other information on that will be forthcoming).  I also can meet with you via phone, Skype, or Zoom by appointment.  Just be sure to account for time zone differences.

Participation: You will still have a participation grade for the class and participation in each week’s activities will be mandatory, as it would be for in-class meetings.  So please hold yourself accountable to participating as actively as you can.  This said, I will be lenient for those having technical difficulties, those in different time zones, and others who find it a challenge to participate in the teleconference discussions. You simply need to let me know about these difficulties, and do so as soon as possible, so I can find ways to accommodate you. I also likely will create new discussion forums as a substitute for some virtual classroom discussions, so as to allow for a new way to participate in the class that doesn’t require high bandwidth connections, computers with fast AV processors, or other things that may be challenging for you. Your participation there will be regarded as equal to any participation in virtual classrooms or our in-class meetings previously.

Technical skills: I will work to make sure that the online technologies we use are fairly easy to understand and use, and that you have all the support you need to do so. However you will have to make an effort to become familiar with, for instance, Zoom or discussion groups on Brightspace, and let me know immediately if you have any difficulty that I can address. If you have issues with Brightspace in particular, we have a great Brightspace support service you can find here:

Virtual classroom and discussion forum civility: As we use virtual classrooms and discuss the usual subjects that sometimes touch upon emotionally stressful or politically sensitive matters, I want to maintain the same levels of civility and compassionate approaches to conflict that we have observed in class.  However, it is going to be more difficult at times given that our online video conferencing and especially online text-based discussion forums will not allow us to see all of the nonverbal communications around the things we say, and we may feel less accountable to one another as we sit at home on computers and discuss difficult subjects. You may feel distracted when we are in virtual classrooms and not pay full attention.  It also may be tempting to see our online classroom forums as like other online forums like Twitter or Facebook where snark and derision are more common. Therefore, I urge us all to regard the same rules of civility and compassion in our online course forums as we have had in our in-class meetings.  I especially hope that we can be fully present when we are in virtual classrooms; that we can be careful in written communication so that we are fully understood; that we can be generous in our interpretations of each other’s intent in such communications; and that we can maintain a sense of responsibility to care for one another as co-learners in our class.  

Do let me know if you have any special concerns or difficulties as we make this transition, and I will do my best to help.

I’ll be writing this weekend with plans for next week, but for now I hope your moves home go well and that you and your families stay healthy.


Christopher Serkin, associate dean for academic affairs and Elisabeth H. and Granville S. Ridley Jr. chair in law, agreed to let us share the email he is sending to his students in advance of Monday’s online classes. For those looking for a briefer approach, Professor Serkin’s email is a useful model.

Dear Class,

I am so sorry that we are not going to be meeting again in person this semester. It is a difficult situation, and I am grateful for your patience. Here is the plan going forward, but it is subject to change. This week, the University has rolled out Brightspace integration with Zoom conferencing. (For those who do not know, Zoom is the gold standard of video conferencing for large groups). I have created Zoom meetings within Brightspace for the rest of our class sessions. We will try to hold class using this technology, so please “come” prepared. I will call on people and replicate as best as possible the experience of being in class. 

If this turns out to be ineffective pedagogically, I may also try to pre-record some content to distribute. But we will just have to see how it goes. 

PLEASE download Zoom before Monday, and register for an account. I will join our class session a little bit early, so feel free to drop in to make sure everything works. 

Note: If you have internet or technology limitations, it is possible to dial in to a Zoom conference by phone. Those dial-in instructions will also be available in the invitation. It is preferable to use video if you are able.




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