Working with Students

Early Semester Telephone Call

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


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  • Great post, thank you for writing this! I have used telephone calls to contact students in the past. It is so rewarding knowing that you have reached your students at a more personal level and that they know you really care. It is so easy to get caught up in the "no face" of online teaching, and see students as words instead of actual people. This one extra step also helps them know that you are human too and you care about their successes! 

    • Laura,

      I agree... it really humanizes teaching both for us as the instructors.  I think it also helps the students see us as real people with a passion for our subjects, instead of an unseen grading machine. :) Thanks so much for your thoughts about this.  I like revisiting the idea at this point in the semester and considering how that early phone call has influenced the semester outcomes. 

  • Hi Alayne,

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I actually did not see your post until after the semester started, so instead of calling each student, I ended up sending individual emails to each of my students a few weeks into the semester. To be honest, I had all but two students email me back. I was touched by their responses! Many of them thanked me for being supportive and for genuinely caring about them. I basically just commented on how they were doing in class, asked about their jobs and family, and if there were any concerns they had. This experience helped me to feel more connected to them. I am new to online teaching, and honestly, I miss that face-to-face interaction. These personal emails helped bridge that gap. I am planning on calling my students early next semester. If I can get this kind of response from just an email, I think the phone call would be that more beneficial. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences and for sharing that wonderful article!

    • Tana,

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Like you, I miss face-to-face interaction and this helps me as much as it helps my students as we "bridge that gap"! :)

  • I love this idea. I have tried calling students at various times in the semester, but without much success (only actually speaking with about 10% of those I've called). Maybe calling them all at the beginning of the semester (instead of only calling those who are struggling a few weeks later) would improve that success rate. Thanks for the idea.

    • Alexander,

      In my experience, calling them early opens the door for better future communication.  It sets the stage for a strong instructor presence.  Perhaps establishing a relationship before problems arise enables us to help more during the moment of crisis?  

      Thanks for your comments!

      • Perfect.  I think that is exactly the nature of the early calls.

  • Video calls vs phone calls

    I do phone calls with my students, but my teen is a Snap Chat addict.  Do any of you have opinions on which path is better??  Any experiences of one vs another?

    • Kotinca,

      Wow... using Snap Chat is a cutting edge idea!  I guess the biggest problem with Snap Chat would be that I think both parties need to have the app for it to work?  I know that the asynchronous video feedback works really well.  See David Ashton's comments in the community on that topic. :)

      • I am not familiar ... with SnapChat ... yet.  Hahaha  I guess I need to research that one.  I do have a lot of live facetime conversations on students' questions. Is there a benefit to SnapChat?

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