Supporting students’ emotional needs in distance learning

Yanfang Si shares simple online teaching methods to make students feel connected and supported and so help meet their emotional needs from a distance

Yanfang Si's avatar
20 May 2021
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Designing and delivering courses to meet students emotional needs

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Created in partnership with

Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University 

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We, as educators, must focus on our students’ emotional needs as well as their educational requirements if we are to teach online effectively. Here are simple ways to make sure students feel connected and supported from a distance.

Use student-relatable examples

Online learning, behind a computer, miles away from classmates and the instructor – all of whom may be in different time zones – can feel abstract. I’ve found that creating videos which simulate “real life” situations counters abstraction and helps students and the instructor get on the same page as they interact and work through the lesson.

For example, in my language lessons, I use a video about city traffic that enables students to practise using language natural to the situation. Using the video as a framework means students can better demonstrate their thought process and level of knowledge and skills. This, in turn, makes it easier for me to focus teaching efforts appropriately and provide useful and comprehensive feedback to students.

Increase interactive opportunities

While my students’ feedback indicates that synchronous teaching is most interactive as it happens in real time with detailed instruction and dynamic engagement, a blend of recorded and live teaching suits students in different time zones. Quizzes added to recorded videos via H5P or Mediasite can play add an interactive element to asynchronous teaching. Combined with learning content, students can complete the quizzes – multiple choice, true or false, or filling the blank – with prompt feedback while watching the video or with a general report afterwards.

Question-and-answer sessions where questions relate to real-life content generate class dialogue, promoting a dynamic environment for student interaction. Discussions and teamwork – activities that set up social situations where students can practise critical thinking through interaction – help to keep them engaged in the learning process.

Provide continuing support

Supporting learning through regular “catch up” sessions can allow the instructor to provide different types of content that meet different students’ needs. First, I identify where students need additional support, then prepare the plan, then conduct a review. This enables me to help students with specific challenges or to provide advice on how they can further investigate a particular topic of interest. For example, this helps us identify students who could benefit from language clinics or online language corners and allows us to connect them to those resources.

Enable peer-support groups

Online forums are an effective way for students to access peer support to address common concerns and goals. To execute this well, students’ interests need to be assimilated and a well-planned schedule constructed, and teacher participation is a requirement. When instructors guide exchange projects or peer-support groups, they are more effective and organised. For instance, knowing that our international students want Chinese language partners, we have worked with a student organisation to help match foreign students with Chinese students for language exchange.

Add motivational activities

Learning from a distance should be social. I look for opportunities for my students to apply their knowledge through activities outside the classroom that engage with a broader learning community. Competitions are one example. Teachers can help prepare students for these motivational activities that encourage them to develop the connection between knowledge and the social world.

Enable regular, accessible communication

I regularly check students’ attendance of live sessions and follow up with any concerns via email or a class message to check if everyone is OK or if they need help. Fixed live office hours via video-conferencing tools are arranged weekly. A Q&A forum provides flexibility in each virtual classroom in terms of time difference, information sharing and multiple-person interactions. Class groups created via social media platforms can also facilitate convenient and efficient communication.

Foster self-awareness through feedback

I request mid-term and semester feedback from students via class-based questionnaires. These help me modify learning and teaching according to the students’ needs. Additionally, learning and teaching committees with student representation offer another channel through which students can communicate their needs.

Online learning is challenging but offers an opportunity for innovative curriculum development. By focusing on students’ needs, we can better engage them in the learning community both in and outside the classroom.

Yanfang Si, Chinese language lecturer in the School of Languages at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University.


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