One of the most frequent questions I get about teaching online – whether synchronously or asynchronously – is how to connect with students in the virtual environment. While there may be a difference in the tools that you need online, the ways to engage students are the same as the traditional, physical classroom: motivation, personalization, and solicitation of their ideas.
I start each semester with a quick survey. Completing the survey is required as part of our introductory assignments (which also include registering for our class on TWEN, reviewing class policies
, etc.) I then send each student an individual email acknowledging their responses and engaging them based on one or more answers. Having used this technique for nearly 7 years, I find that most students are not only surprised to learn that their surveys are read, but pleased to make a personal connection. The email serves not only an icebreaker and early motivator, but the answers help me better understand and know my students individually and collectively.
There are a number of free survey programs available; Survey Monkey
is one. GoogleForms
is another good option. Many schools have licenses for professors for other programs as well; at Wake Forest Law, I use Qualtrics
. The questions from my most recent survey are below. These are just a sampling; you can adapt for your course, teaching style, and needs. The Chapter 1 multiple choice questions in our casebook are great options and first day conversation starter questions as well.
- I am a/an: 2L, 3L, LLM.
- The year immediately prior to law school, I was: (a) working (list where); (b) in school (list where and degree); (c) other (describe).
- Why did you come to law school? Please answer truthfully.
- Describe your ideal post-law school job.
- Who do you believe regulates lawyers: (a) the relevant state government; (b) the federal government; (c) lawyers regulate themselves; (d) some combination of the above.
- I believe the legal profession is: (a) a business; (b) a profession; (c) both a business and a profession.
- Are you planning to take the MPRE on (insert semester MPRE date)?
- What is the last non-legal thing you read – ie, for fun (book, article, blog, etc.)?
- Please list any questions, comments, or concerns.
These surveys have worked so well that I have started incorporating them in all of my classes, virtual or not. Next week, I’ll talk about connecting using short, informal videos at the start of each week or unit. As always, I welcome your questions – firstname.lastname@example.org.