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Research indicates that students learn more and rate their class experience higher when they have a personal connection with the instructor. Here are ten practical ways to help that happen:
  1. Arrive early and stay after class. Shake some hands and welcome students as they enter. Wander to the back of the class and say hello. Ask how their day is going. Make small talk. Proactively get out from behind the protective podium! Say goodbye as students leave. Stay after class for 10 minutes. Tell the students you will be happy to answer questions, etc. We are all busy, but we can usually give 10 minutes after class.
  2. Be willing to follow/friend students on social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook). This better allows students to see you as an actual person outside of class, and for you to better get to know them the same. This helps not only form connections, but also to better understand where each other is coming from. It also helps in learning some names and faces. Following on social media speaks the language and connections of a digital generation.
  3. Hold and proactively invite to office hours. Sure, we all have them, but sometimes we don’t stick to them or they are buried on page 67 of our syllabus. Prominently remind students of your office hours. Tell them you want them to visit with them. Have your door open and a smile on your face. Many students are intimidated to meet with professors, but office hours provide invaluable one-on-one time.
  4. Group message the class consistently. Usually this option is available via your learning management system (LMS). These group messages can be about class items, but every now and then put in a personal touch, a “have a great weekend” or “thanks for being a great class” and “wonderful comments today!”
  5. Tell AAA personal stories: appropriate, applicable, and authentic. Students connect better with professors who they see as “real,” sharing similar or common life experiences and challenges. When suitable, share a personal experience that illustrates a concept you are learning or illustrates where you are personally coming from. We are genetically hard-wired to learn and connect through story.
  6. Bring your family into class. Again, part of students perceiving you are “human” and not an inanimate, unfeeling educational machine is familial identity. When students see you in the roles of spouse, parent, sibling, child it creates empathy. Occasionally invite and introduce family members to your lectures either in person or digitally through videos or images.
  7. Have students create a “Me in 30 Seconds” video. Students have 30 seconds to film a selfie video on their smart phone/webcam to tell who they are, where they are from, their mad skills and hobbies, academic major, etc. (make it a small assignment or extra credit). Have them upload it to a “digital dialog” platform on your LMS where you and other students can view it. This creates a feeling of community and interest in each other’s lives. Pull up these videos when students email you or before a visit so you can see their face and know them as human beings.
  8. Hold brown bag, open invitation lunches with students. Put a Google Docs sign-up sheet with 10 slots and first come, first serve. Although not all students can attend, it sends the message you are open to all. Everyone brings his or her own lunch. No formal agenda and students can talk about any topic they would like to discuss with you, and vice versa. Students enjoy seeing you in a non-classroom, more personal environment (and, yes, some will always sign up!)
  9. Have a sense of humor and be willing to laugh. Appropriate humor creates connections, relatability, and a more comfortable learning environment. Even if you are not naturally funny, you can still lighten things up in ways that are comfortable to you. One caution: Don’t mock or belittle students. If you’re going to poke fun at anyone, make yourself the target.
  10. Reach out to the tails. Send emails to the top and bottom 2% of the bell curve after exams. Give a quick congratulations and well done email to those who scored in the highest percentile, and to those who scored in the bottom percentile reach out to invite them to office hours and offer help.
Anthony Sweat is an assistant professor at Brigham Young University.

Excerpted from the supplemental materials of his 2017 online seminar, Connecting with Students in Large-Section Classes.