Whatever the circumstances, one of the best things you can do is keep lines of communication open. This guide provides resources and strategies for accomplishing two key recommendations around communicating course plans: 

  1. Set clear expectations for students, your teaching team, and yourself.
  2. Communicate early, often, and through consistent channels.

What does success look like in your course? Establish what students will need to do in order to succeed, and structure your communication plan around that information. For example, what will students do on a weekly basis? Over a month? Over the semester? How are they expected to participate in synchronous and asynchronous activities? When are major assignments due and what constitutes effective performance? The Ed Tech Toolkit offers specific high- and low-tech strategies.

Rubrics are an effective way of creating and communicating course expectations to students. Develop a rubric for each assignment, test/quiz, or other assessment activity. Plan to share developed rubrics to students as part of your communication plan. Visit the CTL’s Assessments resources to learn more.

If you have a teaching team (course coordinator, teaching assistants, graders, etc.) devise a plan for maintaining open communication throughout the term. Set a meeting schedule, select collaborative technologies, and establish modes of communication for the team that you can tap into throughout the term.

Be prepared to spend time facilitating conversations about your course with your TAs and other team members on an ongoing basis. These might cover topics such as plans and schedules for the term, methods for supporting students in the course, distributing and explaining marking keys and rubrics, and discussions of any arising issues or challenges.

For more on working with TAs, see the Supporting and Supervising TAs Guide.

Students look to you for guidance. But you can’t be available all the time. Establish your own expectations and routines around how you plan to facilitate the course. Clarify how students can contact you, through what channels they can direct their questions, and on what schedule they might expect your responses. If you work with a teaching team (course coordinators, teaching assistants, etc.) establish who is responsible for what communications and on what timeline.

Get to know your students better by surveying or polling them early in the course, or before the course begins. A variety of electronic survey tools makes this straightforward. Find out about preferred communication channels, what challenges or obstacles students may face or anticipate, and ask them what their expectations or goals are for the term ahead. Surveying students at the outset of a course sets the tone for mutual understanding and information flow. Read more in our Inclusive Community Guide.

The course syllabus stands as the formal document for orienting students to the course. Compliment this orientation by recording a welcome video, writing a welcome announcement post/email, and/or creating an orientation page on your onQ course site. Consider this orientation synonymous to the first day of class when you might typically outline:

  • Key assessments and due dates
  • Required/recommended resources
  • What students will learn or discover by taking the course
  • What they should expect (see set expectations for your students)

The following video offers a tour of an example onQ course site highlighting different ways to orient students to a course. Lauren’s onQ tour

If your course relies on contact among students through group work or small group discussions, consider how you will facilitate student-to-student collaboration whether in-person or online.

  • Take the time to explain why student collaboration is an important part of the course by describing how groupwork is linked to course goals/outcomes.
  • Rather than prescribing a specific tool for online collaboration, make recommendations of helpful tools students might use to collaborate (for example, Microsoft Teams) - then give them flexibility to use what works for them. Remember that students may need to learn new technology alongside the content for the course, so try to keep required tools to a minimum.
  • Kick off group work by having groups develop their own rubric that outlines how the group will measure their own success. Prompt them to ask: What does effective group work look like to us? The rubric they develop will help them set their own expectations for guiding engagement.

Both the Student Engagement and Inclusive Community Guides have additional strategies on group work.

In both in-person and online formats, it’s important to establish regular opportunities for students to reach out to the teaching team with questions. Your faculty, school, or department may have specific policies around mandatory office hours; check with your department head if you’re unsure. Office hours at a specific time can be conducted in-person or online with videoconferencing software. Email students to let them know the specific date and time you will be available online. Be consistent with the days and times you are available for office hours where possible, but be prepared to be compromise with students’ schedules as you are able. 

Resources and References 

Association of College & University Educators - Online Teaching Toolkit.

Indiana University - Keep Teaching Strategies. 


Creative Commons License 
The Transforming Teaching Toolkit by the Centre for Teaching & Learning, Queen’s University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License