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How to maintain communication with your students using Brightspace

Chickering and Gamson’s “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” (1987) is the framework against which the quality of instructional materials has been informally evaluated for decades. Given the increase in online and blended learning spaces today, we will be applying these principles to a virtual context throughout this blog series, in order to demonstrate how the Brightspace platform can help K-12 teachers achieve the seven principles of good practice within their elementary or secondary education settings.

Principle 1: “Encourage contact between teachers and students”

Of course, an adequate balance of teacher presence can inspire students and reduce learner anxiety. Puzziferro and Shelton describe the importance of appropriately frequent contact and communication in supporting overall student motivation and involvement in a course: “Contact fosters accountability and accountability is the core of quality” [1]. Today we will discuss Announcements and Activity Feed, two homepage communication tools that can be added can to your Brightspace course in order to invite spontaneous and proactive teacher-student communication. Your school district may notably prefer one over the other, or may even incorporate both!

Regular and personalized communication

Announcements in the Brightspace platform will allow you to rapidly reach out to students without leaving the course homepage. Keep everyone in the loop about upcoming deadlines or cancellations, and quickly share resources, bite-sized learning, or messages of encouragement. Achieve your ideal level of virtual teacher presence without bombarding students since the Brightspace platform provides one centralized location that students will know to consult (similar to a physical classroom bulletin board). Students (or parents, on behalf of their children) can customize notifications to suit their needs—would they rather receive an instantaneous email or text message, or simply log in whenever they’re ready to consume any new announcements? Maximize efficiency as an educator by communicating only once, but allowing students to view these announcements multiple times, and on their own schedule.

In addition to frequent contact, a challenge that often arises within online/blended educational models is how to achieve personalized communication. Hutchins suggests that “instructors who frequently refer to students by name succeed at establishing rapport with students and often motivate future contact (Principle #1)” [2]. Although this strategy may appear to be impossible in a virtual space, you can actually bridge this gap in the Brightspace platform by using Replace Strings in your Announcements so that each student sees his or her own name displayed in the message’s headline and/or content (try this in your homepage banner as well)—talk about personalization!

Learner engagement and parent access

Alternatively, with the Activity Feed, not only can you convey information to all of your students, but you can also build rapport and increase engagement by allowing them to comment on your messages! Use the Activity Feed to answer important student questions for all to see, instead of replying to multiple individual emails with similar responses. Plus, if your school district has implemented Brightspace for Parents, when parents log into their parent portal, they too will be able to view the Activity Feed, so that they can stay in the know about classroom updates. Think of it like a weekly/monthly newsletter that you are sending home. No need to worry about privacy, either—parents will only view posts written by you or their own child(ren) in the Activity Feed, so they will never see messages from other children in the class.

Peer communication

The Activity Feed is also an effective tool for enabling peer-to-peer collaboration because you can empower your students to embrace learner autonomy by allowing them to create their own posts. Depending on the grade level of your group, you as the educator can customize how you would like to utilize the Activity Feed by clicking on “Manage commenting and posting” within the tool. You can opt for no commenting, student comments only, or student comments and posts. If you choose to allow student posts, this will mean that they may share learning materials with each other, discuss topics of their own accord, and engage in student-driven learning—again, all without leaving the course homepage!

Be sure to check out the next blog in this series, all about cultivating a digital community!

[1]Puzziferro and Shelton: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Kaye_Shelton/publication/277125392_Supporting_Online_Faculty_-_Revisiting_the_Seven_Principles_A_Few_Years_Later/links/5567177108aeccd77737809c.pdf

[2]Hutchins: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.506.1569&rep=rep1&type=pdf

[3]Chickering and Gamson: http://www.lonestar.edu/multimedia/SevenPrinciples.pdf

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