Best Practices for Communicating Effectively with Online Students

The following strategies can help you communicate effectively with your students in your online courses.

Click each item to expand.

Apply to your course: Resources & Tools 

There are several reasons you will need to communicate with students in an online course. The need and purpose you have for audience (student) interaction, will help you determine the tool and platform you use.

Communication Type


Technology & Resources 

Send a welcome message 

  • Establish your persona and begin to connect with students, fostering a comfortable class atmosphere (Chen et al., 2015; Stylinski, 2020)
  • Share key course components students want to know, e.g. routines, assessments, expectations, highlights
  • Canvas Announcement Tool
  • Class-wide Email 
  • Echo360 (Screen recording tool)
  • Introducing Your Course - Best practices

Introduce/wrap-up unit topics 

  • Reflect on a unit, addressing points of confusion and clarifying anything necessary
  • Introduce new concepts/what's ahead and link concepts and learning objectives over time
  • Show students you are actively participating and paying attention to what they are doing
  • Canvas Announcements
  • Class-wide Email 
  • Echo360  (Screen recording tool)

Unidirectional Update

  • Convey changes in course (e.g. due dates, assignment expectations, etc.) but don't need to hear back from students
  • Canvas Announcements
  • Class-wide Email 
  • Echo360 (Screen recording tool)

Classwide, collective communication 

  • Allow students to discuss course topics, share information, and/or ask questions relevant to whole class
  • Enable students to collaborate on projects and/or peer review
  • Discussion Forums
  • Canvas collaborate
  • Google Suite

1:1 Teacher:Student communication (may require discretion)

  • Share grade information  
  • Respond to personal situations and their impact on a students’ performance or work
  • Canvas messages
  • Canvas gradebook
  • UMass Email



Chen, B., Raible, J., Bauer, S., & Thompson, K. (2015b). Send a welcome message. In B. Chen & K. Thompson (Eds.), Teaching online pedagogical repository. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning.

Dixson, M. D. (2010). Creating effective student engagement in online courses: What do students find engaging? Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 1-13.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T, & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2, 87–105.

Joyner, S. A., Fuller, M. B., Holzweiss, P. C., Henderson, S., & Young, R. (2014). The importance of student-instructor connections in graduate level online courses. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching,10 (3), 436-445.

OAPA (Office of Academic Planning & Assessment). (2020) Student Suggestions for Remote Teaching and Learning. University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Stylinski, T. (2020). Planning Your Course Trailer. New Haven, CT: Yale University Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning

How to cite this page:

UMass Amherst IDEAS Team. (2024, January). Communicate Effectively with Students Online.