After posting this idea for working with students in our nursing group, one of the other instructors suggested that we take the discussion to the community and see who else has tried making early semester telephone calls and what your experiences have been!
A couple of years ago I read an article in Nursing Education Perspectives about using an early semester telephone call to increase social presence in online classes (Gunderson, Theiss, Wood, & Conti-O'Hare, 2014). I was interested in the idea and loved the thought of increasing the students "sense of partnership in the learning experience and awareness that there is someone to help with problems" (Gunderson et al., 2014, p. 338). Previously, I have reached out to struggling students with a phone call and have found the method to be effective. So, this semester I made a goal to try to contact all of my students by phone in the first two weeks of the semester.
My success in contacting students varied. I was able to actually speak with about 1/3 of my students, left a message for most of the rest, and was unable to contact or leave a message for two of them. However, the impact of the phone call on those with whom I spoke or left a message for seemed very positive! One student, who told me on the phone that she was dropping my class because of family pressures, emailed me later and said that the support she felt made her change her mind and she felt that she could compete the course now. Several other students emailed me or left notes on their assignment submissions thanking me for the phone call and mentioning how it helped them.
The additional blessing of making these phone calls is that I learned a lot about my students lives and feel more connected to them. For example, I discovered that one student is undergoing prolonged medical therapy and is on disability, that one is working two full-time jobs to pay off bills, and that one student was very nervous about the technology aspect of the course and had been unable to access the announcement page. Overall, making the phone calls has been a valuable use of my instructor time. I plan to use this strategy in future semesters. :)
Our nursing group would love to hear about any experiences you have had using this type of instructor/student interaction. I attached the article in case you would like to read it. I felt that Gunderson et al. have some useful ideas. :) I am interested in seeing if the early personal contact makes a difference in student performance and interaction during the remainder of the semester.
Gunderson, B. J., Theiss, M. A., Wood, L. K., & Conti-O'Hare, M. (2014). Using a telephone call to increase social presence in online classes. Nursing Education Perspectives, 35(5), 338-339. doi: 10.5480/11-569