Throw your students a lifeline
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.