The secret to timely, relevant, inclusive communication with students

Effective communication is vital to engaging and positive remote study. Cathy Stone offers advice on how to ensure communication between institutions and students is timely, relevant and inclusive

Cathy Stone's avatar
University of Newcastle, Australia
25 Aug 2020
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Key Details

This video will cover:

00:30 How inclusive communication starts with understanding who your students are

01:45 How teachers can make their communications truly inclusive and build a community among students

03:07 How the institution can nurture a feeling of belonging among students


Hello, my name’s Cathy Stone and I’m a conjoint associate professor with the University of Newcastle, Australia.

I’m also an independent consultant and researcher in the field of higher education student experience with much of my research relating to the online student experience.

Communication plays an all-important role in changing what can be a somewhat disengaging experience of studying remotely online to one that is much more engaging and positive.

So, how can we ensure that communication between institutions and students is timely, relevant and inclusive? Not only communication between teachers and students, but also institutional communication that reaches out to offer just-in-time information, encouragement and support.

For communication to be truly inclusive, we need to have a strong sense and understanding of who our students are.

Those studying remotely tend to come from all walks of life and encompass all ages and stages. A high proportion of older students choose to study online, for the flexibility to combine their studies with other essential responsibilities, such as paid work and caring for families.

Older women with families are particularly highly represented in the online student cohort.

But in these times of Covid-19 restrictions, there are also many students who’d prefer to be studying on campus and indeed may have enrolled to do just that, but now they find themselves, too, as remote learners.

Inclusive communication is the key to building persistence and engagement amongst this diverse remote cohort, with the teacher’s role, of course, being vital to this.

Experienced online teachers talk about ways of creating an online presence, through regular engaged and interested interventions that provide a sense of personal contact, ensuring that each student feels cared for in a welcoming space, so that they’re not just a number or a faceless member of the crowd.

With the time pressures that most teachers are under, what can they do to improve the inclusivity of their communication?

Creating short introductory videos helps a great deal.

Nothing too fancy, just using a mobile phone, perhaps, so students can see and hear their teacher.

They can be encouraged to do the same and share it with the class, or to write something if they prefer.

That way everyone, including the teacher, finds out who’s in the class, a little about them, and straightaway they begin to feel a sense of belonging to the class.

Clear expectations can be set on how and when communication will occur, how students are expected to connect with their teacher and with other students, and when they can expect responses.

Providing responses and feedback that are encouraging, constructive and personal will help to build an inclusive learning community in which students feel more comfortable communicating with each other.

But along with this goes the importance of institutional contact right throughout the student journey, from enrolment to graduation, that’s targeted and personalised.

Inclusive communication happens when the institution reaches out proactively using the student’s name and giving the student information that’s relevant for them, at points where they are most likely to need this.

Receiving multiple generic emails, particularly ones that are not relevant for them, tells them that the institution doesn’t know who they are and perhaps they don’t care.

It also means that students are less likely to take notice of what is relevant and what they do need to read.

Student-to-student contact can be particularly effective and inclusive here, such as through peer-mentoring programs, outreach phone contact by student advisers at regular times during each semester, following up on those having difficulties.

This type of personal outreach makes it easier for students to know who to contact and to feel confident about getting in touch when they need to.

Learning remotely online can indeed be a lonely, invisible existence and one in which it’s all too easy to disengage.

But we can prevent that through regular, meaningful and inclusive communication from teachers and the institution as a whole, which tells the students that they’re not invisible, they’re not alone, and their success matters.


This video was produced by Cathy Stone, conjoint associate professor with the University of Newcastle, Australia

Read the contribution from Cathy Stone, conjoint associate professor at the University of Newcastle, Australia, to our feature article “A practical guide to digital teaching and learning”


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