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How to Make it Personal: Simple, Creative Ways that Can Make a Difference
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How to Make It PersonalSimple, Creative Ways that Can Make a Difference

By: Janina L. Nobles, Ph.D.


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Online classes can be very robotic and somewhat impersonal like a “to-do” list – just checking the boxes. Students read this chapter, post a question, complete an assignment, take a quiz, etc. I have taken online courses and didn’t feel like the instructor read anything I submitted or even cared I was enrolled in the course.  


I’m sure I am not alone in this experience, right? So, what about the students’ online experience? What things can we as instructors do to make the online experience more personal?  How can we help students feel connected in what can be an impersonal online environment?  


Here are five simple things I believe make a difference in my online courses:


1. Start with a personal introduction.

Right from the start, I post a brief PPT presentation telling students a little about me – like where I grew up, what colleges I attended, what I like to do in my free time, etc.  This gives students a glimpse into my life outside of the classroom. I also ask students to introduce themselves and tell me something unique about themselves.


This is a powerful way to get to know each student and let them be recognized as an individual. When I notice someone is getting married or having a baby it gives me the opportunity to send a congratulatory message and to encourage the student to be proactive just in case life throws them a curveball (i.e. the baby comes early, wedding obligations, etc.).  I always look for simple ways to make it more personal for my students.


2. Monitor student submissions.

During the first few weeks of class, I monitor student submission to determine who hasn’t turned in assignments and who may be struggling. I simply reach out to those students to give them a bit of encouragement and let them know I am available if they are having any trouble.


3. Give feedback.

I am sure we’ve all had an instructor that never gave us feedback on assignments, and we walked away not knowing what we did wrong or how we could correct the problem. I absolutely hated that feeling as a student. This is why I am intentional and make it a point that my students never feel that way.


Honestly, always providing constructive feedback can be time-consuming. But otherwise, how will students know how to improve or complete assignments correctly if we don’t explain what was wrong in the first place?


4. Give praise.

Like many of us, I have a number of non- traditional students in my program. Many face numerous challenges and obstacles as they juggle the demands of life and being a college student. I make sure to let them know they are doing a great job.


Acknowledging a students’ efforts goes a long way! Recently I had a student taking their online midterm exam with their fussy infant in their arms (I use Respondus Lockdown Browser with Monitor which videos each student as they take their exams).  I was so impressed and acknowledge the dedication she displayed. I have seen firsthand how a little praise makes all the difference between students sticking with the course and students experiencing self-doubt and dropping the course. 


5. Be available to the students.

Many students work full-time and are not able to come by my office or call to speak with me in the middle of the day. In an effort to better serve my online courses, I have virtual office hours twice a week where I am available online to answer questions. I even have a web-conferencing option available so the student and I can talk over the computer to address any questions or issues they are experiencing.  This is also a great option for online advising and registration.


Personal touches like these make a difference in student performance, engagement, and retention. But, they can also help change the perception of what an online course can (and should) be.   


How do you make it personal?  What tips and tricks do you do specifically that make an impression on your students or a positive impact on your courses?   



1 Comment

Thank you Janina. I love all of your suggestions. I can do a better job in recognizing personal struggles like children and jobs. Sometimes, students wait too late to share these things to have time to improve their grade.


One thing I do to personally connect with students is to have a mandatory Zoom Conference with my online students at the beginning of the semester. Students receive bonus points for attending. I get a chance to see the students and they see me.  With Zoom Conferencing several students can chime in at one time. Students have several dates and times to choose from. There is no agenda; students can ask any questions about the course. Of course, I have a video orientation of the course. However, with Zoom, it is like being in a face2face classroom. Zoom is free. Go to to set up your account. Students set up a free account as well and can download the App on their phone. Another great aspect of Zoom is that I can share my screen with the students to show them exactly how to navigate through the course. Students love the opportunity to see me and ask questions. So, they may request a Zoom meeting with me at any time.