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This content was published: December 3, 2018. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.

Throw your students a lifeline

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This month’s Voice of the Mentor comes from Stacie Williams, Communication Students faculty and mentor.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard a faculty member say they’re “drowning in grading or meetings” I’d have enough money to hire an assistant to manage my own busy life. Our students, especially online students, have very busy lives. Many are juggling work, caring for family, or experiencing housing and food insecurity. And often they, too, feel like they’re drowning.

One way to promote equitable student success is to adopt early intervention strategies that can help keep students from falling behind. In essence, I need to throw them a lifeline. There are some very simple tools at our disposal in Brightspace to help keep learners engaged and on track with our course. Most courses use weekly assignments and discussions, so I’ll share a couple of lifelines for that type of coursework.

For Assignments

Email users without submissions option

It took a few years before I realized that I should be using Email Users Without Submissions function in the assignments folder. The great thing is that it’s a quick way to send an email only to students who’ve not yet submitted an assignment. If you send the email 24-36 hours before the due date, it can act as a just-in-time reminder for students.

For Discussions

View topic statistics action menu

The initial posts in my online class are due for full credit by Wednesday at 11:59pm. So no later than Wednesday morning I use View Topic Statistics tool in D2L to do a quick check for who has not yet made their initial discussion post.

User statistics shows the number of threads and posts created and read for each user

Once on the User Statistics page, I then open the classlist in another tab and check off names that need to receive an email about their initial post so that I can send out one mass bcc email.

Sample email

So what does a lifeline email look like?


I see that you’ve not yet submitted Reading Reflection: Chapter 3. This is a friendly reminder that it’s due on Sunday by 11:59pm. Let me know if you have any questions about the assignment, or if there’s anything I can do to support you in the completion of this week’s work.

How have students responded? No one has ever said “stop bothering me” or “I’m an adult, I should be given the opportunity to miss a deadline and fail the assignment”. Okay, that’s dramatic, but the point is that students are grateful and they know that I’m invested in their success. Here’s just a sampling from hundreds of my students’ responses:

Thank you, the check in is very thoughtful and appreciated!

I will be getting all of this completed before the deadline. Thank you for reaching out!

Thank you for checking in with me, I appreciate the care and it really shows your interest in your students.

Yes, I plan on completing those two assignments tonight. I appreciate you reaching out!!

I blanked and forgot to complete the intro discussion. I will be on that as soon as I get home.

I’m sorry, it’s been a hectic week. I’ve been dealing with a family emergency but I will submit everything that is due by tonight. Thank you for checking in!

Thank you for the heads up! Just got off work and got it all taken care of. Much appreciated.

Thank you for reaching out I did not realize that I had not posted my introduction for this class yet but I will do that as soon as possible. Thank you!

Thanks for reaching out and letting me know. I must’ve overlooked it. I’ll get it done as soon as I can. Once again thanks for letting me know.

In a face-to-face class I get the opportunity to offer a lot of reminders, but also to observe my students in group discussions, watch their engagement, and determine if it seems like someone might need a little more support. I can’t do that in the same way online, but I have found that I can keep track of how timely things are being posted or submitted and offer support to students before they miss a deadline.

Sometimes I have faculty say, “students need to learn to be responsible for their own deadlines and course work- they’re adults.” But any of us who appreciate an email reminder that our cell phone bill is due soon, a phone call from the doctor reminding us of an upcoming appointment, or a colleague reminding us of a meeting later in the day have been a beneficiary of the same type of support. The “sink or swim” mindset in education is not a way to promote equitable student success. In addition to teaching content in my course, it’s important that I play the role of lifeguard so that students don’t sink in my class. I’m a failure as a lifeguard if I stop monitoring the pool and people drown on my watch.

This extra intervention strategy will maybe take 20 minutes a week, so I encourage you to try it and see how your students’ experience in your class is changed.

About Andy Freed

I'm the Director of Learning Technology & Innovation (LTI!), where I oversee our infrastructure, technical support, and online student services teams. I've been with the College since 2001 and have worked in several positions, from tech... more »

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Sorry, but the comments have been closed. If you see something that doesn't belong, please click the x and report it.

x (Comment #33535) by Thomas Lynn Wiseman 3 years ago (Comment #33535)

Thank you for the great tips. Should we add that the instructor needs to go to the specific assignment (not the general assignments tab) to see “Email Users Without Submissions,” or is that too obvious (to everyone but me)?

I really like these tips and will start using them right away.

Tom Wiseman

x (Comment #33536) by bryan 3 years ago (Comment #33536)

Essential topic. Maybe there could be a discussion about this topic at the summit/conference in May?

x (Comment #33537) by Michael Mackey 3 years ago (Comment #33537)

Stacie, Thank you for taking the time to share your insights! Useful tips here.

x (Comment #33538) by Suzanne Atkin 3 years ago (Comment #33538)

Excellent reminder for how we can best support our students.
Thank you!!

x (Comment #33547) by Rhonda Collier 3 years ago (Comment #33547)


Thanks for the great tips. I love the idea of a just-in-time reminder for students. I also like how passionate you are about not letting students “sink”!


x (Comment #33550) by JS Harrison 3 years ago (Comment #33550)

I do send reminders for students who are late, but the idea of sending it prior to the due date is great. Yes, Dentist and Doctor offices notify me in advance and it is helpful.

x (Comment #33569) by Shirlee Geiger 3 years ago (Comment #33569)

GREAT ideas!! Now I want someone to send me a reminder at the right time to send my students a reminder!!

x (Comment #33589) by Davida Jordan 3 years ago (Comment #33589)

These are really helpful tips for academic success and for being empathetic with your students. Thank you!

x (Comment #33590) by Melissa Goodman Elgar 3 years ago (Comment #33590)

Thanks so much for this posting. I will use these options next term! It is so sad when you see people fall behind, and this should help me keep a few from falling between the cracks.

x (Comment #33593) by Linda Stewart 3 years ago (Comment #33593)

Thanks, Stacie! Your post is very helpful! Think of how much we can contribute to our students’ success with just a few simple reminders. I’ve sent reminders occasionally, but will try sending them in a more systematic way–and before the due dates rather than after.

x (Comment #33627) by Cynthia 3 years ago (Comment #33627)

100% agreement. I even do “reminders” the day ahead of Reading Quizzes (short quizzes at the start of 11 eleven class periods) and tests. I just set a reminder for 9am on my tablet/phone at the start of the term, and those come up every morning to remind me to send my classes a reminder. ;) I’ve had colleagues (who I do respect) tell me that I’m being too hand-holding, but I say the same thing in response: we all get those reminders from our doctors and dentists. And, I *do* want my students to do well; I don’t want a poor performance to be because they forgot they had a Reading Quiz that day or an assignment due. It takes me about two minutes every morning to send out reminders for the next day’s classes. (They’re one sentence: “Here’s your reminder for the RQ tomorrow over the article _______ .”) I’ve asked students over the years if they’re tired of seeing my reminders, if I’m being too “mothering” or something like that, and they always assure me that they appreciate them very much. Even the students who maintain their own to-do lists like the reassurance that they’re on track. And yes, the dates are in the syllabus and on D2L. I know, they “should” maintain their own calendars and keep on top of things, but I’ll stop doing it the day that all my colleagues no longer need reminders for meetings ;) If students miss a test, I wait a day for them to contact me, then I check on them. If they miss more than two days attendance in a row, I reach out with a “checking on you — are you okay?” email. So many students have told me that they appreciate that. It really doesn’t take very long. And some students still fall through the cracks, but not as many.

x (Comment #33799) by Peter Seaman 3 years ago (Comment #33799)

This is such great advice, Stacie – thank you!

Shirlee’s funny comment – about needing a reminder to send students a reminder – reminded me that it’s never too late to give intelligent agents a try. Intelligent agents are a tool within D2L that allows you to send reminders to students whenever some condition is met – or not met. They take a bit of effort to set up but they work really well once they are running.

Two resources for getting started with intelligent agents:



(That second one is s shameless plug for my own blog post!)

Thanks again, Stacie!