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Humanizing Online Courses to Connect Students, Instructor, and Content

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Encouraging a sense of community and building relationships are common goals in both face-to-face and online courses. These goals might be especially important in an online environment. Because your students may never be in the same physical location, they may find it challenging to connect with the you, the course content, and other students.

One approach to increase a sense of connection and minimize feelings of isolation is to “humanize” your online course. According to DuCharme-Hansen and Dupin-Bryant (2005), humanizing reduces the psychological distance between the student and the instructor. Humanizing online courses may be accomplished by adding a human element to both the student and instructor online experiences. Learning can be enhanced when there are relationships between the students, the instructor, and the course content.

Here are a few suggestions for how you can help students feel connected and engaged:

Establish social presence by using a video introduction. Your introduction can include your professional interests and expertise, educational background, and personal details, such as hobbies and interests. Recording yourself is simple with a smartphone or webcam. Try using MEDIAL, a tool that makes it easy to incorporate media like audio and video into your Blackboard course.

Host synchronous online meetings with a web conferencing tool, such as Blackboard Collaborate. Your students will see and hear you in a real-time, interactive session.

VoiceThread sessionCreate asynchronous conversations with VoiceThread. This online platform allows you to build anytime, anywhere discussions with your students using images, videos, and documents. With VoiceThread, students contribute to discussions using a keyboard, microphone, webcam, telephone, or uploaded audio files. You can transform a group of strangers into a community of learners by using this technology as an icebreaker activity. This may encourage your students to become more involved and invested in the course. Another possibility is having students listen to your recorded lectures with an interactive twist. While students listen to your lecture, they can interject virtually with questions and comments via text, recorded audio, or video. You can review student questions and respond all within VoiceThread.

Amplify student voices with FlipGrid. FlipGrid allows you to foster interaction between you and your students by allowing students to record themselves in a video format. Students can then share the recording either with you alone or with the entire class. This tool can be a catalyst for multi-media dialogue in your online course. Some instructors report that students who tended to be shy in a face-to-face setting, livened up in front of a camera, becoming more expressive and comfortable contributing to class discussions. Want to give FlipGrid a try? Here is a sample FlipGrid topic to which you can record a video response. Please note that in order to reply (i.e. record a video response), you will be asked to authenticate by logging in with Microsoft. Use your NIU username (e.g. and password. You can either record with your webcam or import a video file that you have already recorded.

For more ideas, watch the recorded workshop Humanizing Your Online Course brought to you by the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center.


DuCharme-Hansen, Dupin-Bryant. (2018, November 7). Human Element: Tools for Humanizing Your Online Course. Retrieved from

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