Ohio University

Digital Toolbox: Communicating with Students

by Jeff Kuhn from the Office of Instructional Innovation

At a Glance 

  • Use Blackboard for asynchronous information delivery of essential course content via pre-recorded video or discussion boards associated with class readings, lectures, etc.  
  • Use Teams when the goal is to engage students in active learning experiences when dynamic, rapid, or synchronous communication is expected. 
  • Use email when communicating sensitive information or when you need to document that communication has occurred.

Feature Comparison

Feature Blackboard Microsoft Teams Email
Low-bandwidth options Journals, Blogs, Wikis, Discussion Boards, Email, Messages Text chat, File Sharing Yes
High-bandwidth options Embedded or linked media Audio & video chat No
Setup Required Automatically created and ready to edit Class team created by request Requires list of students' OHIO emails
Private student-instructor interactions Journals Chat Yes
Discussion formats Blogs, Wikis, Discussion Boards Chats, Class Team Listserv style (not ideal)
Audio/video-based communication Asynchronous: Embedded or linked media Yes, synchronous No
Full class participation Blogs, Wikis, Discussion Boards, Email, Messages Yes Listserv style (not ideal)
FERPA compliant (i.e. OK to discuss grades) Yes, if used appropriately Yes, if used appropriately Yes, if used appropriately

A closer look

Communication between faculty and students is the foundational core of a successful class, particularly online courses. Students should be able to expect that: 

  • Essential course information will be in one central location. Grading policies, due dates, etc. should be kept in spot, such as the Course Information section on Blackboard. 
  • It will be clear how to contact you. Tell students which platform—Teams chats, email, etc.—that you prefer they use to reach out to you. 
  • Each course activity has a consistent, central location. Think about your “categories” of course activities (e.g. exams, participation, lectures, discussions, etc). Each category should have a specific location—for example, you could have all exams be submitted through Blackboard Tests, or all discussions occur via video chat on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the class Teams channel. 

How do I decide which tool to use? 

An effective framework for deciding on which communication tool(s) to use can be found in the article Videoconferencing Alternatives: How Low-Bandwidth Teaching Will Save Us All by Daniel Stanford. He suggests balancing between immediacy and students’ Internet bandwidth as represented in the matrix below: 

A matrix with four quadrants: High Bandwidth/Low Immediacy, High Bandwidth/High Immediacy, Low Bandwidth/Low Immediacy, and Low Bandwidth/High Immediacy.
  • High Bandwidth/Low Immediacy: Prerecorded video, asynchronous discussions with video, pre-recorded audio, asynchronous discussions with audio
  • High Bandwidth/High Immediacy: Video conferences, audio conferences
  • Low Bandwidth/Low Immediacy: Discussion boards with text/images, readings with text/images, email
  • Low Bandwidth/High Immediacy: Collaborative documents, group chat and messaging

 

Tool 1 - Blackboard 

Immediacy: Low

Bandwidth: Low-High 

Uses Low Bandwidth High Bandwidth
Asynchronous class discussions via Discussion Boards via Voicethread discussions
General class announcements via text-based Announcements via weekly Announcement videos
Course content access via Content items
Quizzes and Tests via Blackboard test options via Proctortrack

 

Tool 2 - Microsoft Teams 

Immediacy: High 

Bandwidth: Low-High 

Uses Low Bandwidth High Bandwidth
Synchronous class discussions and activities via Teams chat or collaboration on OneDrive documents via audio/video chat
Online office hours via Teams chat via audio/video chat
Active communication, such as Q&A sessions via Teams chat via audio/video chat
Collaborative problem-solving between students via Teams chat or collaboration on OneDrive documents via video chat

 

Tool 3 - Email 

Immediacy: Low 

Bandwidth: Low 

Best used for: 

  • Communication that does not require an immediate response 
  • Communication for which you’d like to have a searchable record 

 

Applying what you learned 

Video Summary

Case Study: English 1510

Course: English 1510 - Writing and Rhetoric I 

Format: Online class 

Scenario: 20 students, some with unreliable home internet connections 

Quadrants:

When deciding which tools to use to communicate with students, try to select three of Stanford’s quadrants that best fit your course and the learning contexts of your students. (It would help to assess your students’ remote learning conditions.) Then decide what course content and activities best match that quadrant.  

  • High Immediacy/Low Bandwidth
  • Low Immediacy/High Bandwidth
  • Low Immediacy/Low Bandwidth 

Because ENG 1510 is a writing course, we’ll need to plan for high immediacy/low bandwidth communication as students will be completing peer review for each of the three papers they will write in the semester. A great choice for this communication need would be having students write their essays via Microsoft OneDrive in which they can use Word Online and those can be shared with other students for peer review. 

ENG 1510 has a core reading component and class discussions around those readings. In this instance, it would be ideal to provide some form of “face-to-face" communication to build a sense of community in the course. A low immediacy/high bandwidth communication tool, such as Voicethread, would be the best tool for this situation. Voicethread is a video-based discussion board that could be problematic for students with unreliable Internet. However, since the discussion activity will be due by the end of a weekly module, students would not have the stressor of needing to reply immediately and have the time to plan for and access stable Internet to complete the assignment. Voicethread also allows for an audio-only commenting, so if Internet bandwidth is a problem for a student the less bandwidth-intensive audio option can be used. It would be best to make a note of that in the assignment information in Blackboard

Finally, for English 1510, there's a need to communicate weekly checklists and any updates to students. Since this communication would be in one direction, the best approach for this would be a low immediacy/low bandwidth tool such as Blackboard’s announcement feature. The announcement feature is text-based, and students are sent an email version of the announcement. 

By building the basic communication infrastructure around tools from three separate quadrants of the bandwidth-immediacy matrix, we have added enough variety to engage students while still being respectful of the challenges they may be facing during online instruction.