Communicating with Students

A photograph of two women sitting at a desk and looking over a textbook together.

Students have many different communication styles. There are generational differences as well as cultural differences. Often, instructors speak in a language that is professional and relevant to their discipline and education. Thus, instructors have many ideas about effective instructor-student communication from their backgrounds, some of which may not be effective with today’s students.

Instructors must communicate in a variety of ways to students. They must communicate about content and discipline, such as explaining concepts, and clarify expectations, such as assignment directives. Instructors must also build effective and positive relationships with students. Students need to know that instructors are concerned about them and value their work. Some of this may be conveyed by non-verbal behavior, as well. Research has demonstrated that students’ feelings and emotions are important to their learning:

“To become great teachers, we must become great communicators who are aware and adaptive to students and situations. And, we should always question our assumptions about how to bet teach our content and socially interact with students.” – Jennifer Waldeck

Teaching International Students

Instructors should be aware they may have students in class whose first language is not English. Showing appropriate and respectful concern and awareness about students’ specific language difficulties will aid in overall class performance.

In a class based on students’ verbal participation, heavy accents may prevent students from contributing to the class discussion and may consequently affect their grades. Certainly, instructors cannot correct accents, but they can encourage students to participate and help students with their efforts to express themselves. Instructors can help students in the following ways:

  • Restating the student’s main point. An instructor should state openly if he or she does not understand the student’s point. One of the most frustrating experiences of international students is to talk without any reaction.
  • Asking for further explanation. Many students, out of politeness, indifference, or a fear of embarrassing themselves, prefer to remain quiet and to give the impression that they understand.
  • Correcting expressions or language that may help the student in the future. This is best done in private.

When the course requires extensive written work such as essays or term papers, the international student may face an even greater disadvantage. The instructor cannot and should not exempt such students from these assignments, but there are ways of helping international students. If the midterm and final exams are taken in class, the instructor has opportunities, such as giving some extra time to the international student or allowing the student to bring a dictionary to the examination.

If some of the assignments are take-home exams or term papers, the instructor together with the student can ease the burden of language. With the consent of the student, an instructor might ask for a volunteer among the American students to proofread the paper and to correct grammar, spelling, and style. The student can also be referred to the UNT Writing Lab for assistance.

Mechanisms to Communicate with Students

All students are expected to activate their EagleConnect account provided by the university. EagleConnect is the official e-mail account and e-mail contact for all students at UNT. An EagleConnect account can be activated on the web at eagleconnect.unt.edu. Instructors can send e-mail to students’ EagleConnect accounts via the official class roster generated in EIS.

Email opens the possibility for individual communication with students. Students can use email to pose questions to an instructor, and the instructor can provide quick feedback. Using this approach requires that the instructor make a commitment to reading email regularly and responding quickly to students. This opportunity for communication may be especially valuable to the shy or reticent student who would be hesitant to ask a question in class. Such students can use email to ask the questions they would not ask otherwise.

Three caveats about using e-mail to reach students:

  1. You should remind students that you will not respond to email the instant they send it. A student may email you with a question at midnight, but that student cannot reasonably expect a response at that time. Be sure to advise students about how long they may expect to wait for a response from you and how often you expect they will be checking their accounts. You may consider adding an email response time in your syllabus in a section about communication.
  2. Remember that email communications are not particularly nuanced. Email communications can seem brusque and impersonal, and the tone of the person writing the message is not always clear.
  3. Do not communicate with a student about his grades via email, unless you are using the student’s official UNT email address. You have no way of verifying that other email accounts are private or even that they belong to your student. If you use anything other than the student’s official email address, you run the risk of disclosing confidential student information to a third party in violation of state and federal educational privacy laws.
  4. Ask students to put their name and course number in the subject line. This practice alerts faculty that the e-mail is from a student. Therefore, faculty can make responding to students’ emails a priority.

Another way to communicate with students is by using the announcements section in the learning management system. This is one of the best ways to communicate with the entire class about a course- wide topic, issue, reminder, etc.

References

Waldeck, J. (2016). Untangling the web of student-teacher communication. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/untangling-web-student-teacher-communication/