The Impact of Teacher-Student Relationships in an Online Course – Part 2

The impact of Teacher-Student Relationships in an online course - part 2.

Why is the teacher-student relationship in an online course important, Again?

In this series, we’ve covered building community in a paced (synchronous) course and a self-paced (asynchronous) course, and we’ve talked about the power of teamwork in online learning. Last week and this, we are wrapping up our building community series by taking a closer look at the impact of positive teacher-student relationships in an online course.

If you missed Part 1 of The Impact Of Teacher-Student Relationships In An Online Course, I suggest you start there. We covered:

  • The Instructor Has To Take The Lead In Building Teacher-Student Relationships
  • What Is A ‘Sense Of Presence’ And Why Is It Important In Building Teacher-Student Relationships In An Online Course?
  • Discussion Boards Play A Valuable Role In Creating Positive Teacher-Student Relationships In An Online Course

In Part 2 we continue with:

  • Video As A Tool For Building Positive Teacher-Student Relationships In An Online Course
  • Live Chats Cannot Be Underestimated
  • Building Teacher-Student Relationships One-On-One In An Online Course
  • Organization Of Your Online Classroom Plays A Role In The Teacher-Student Relationship

Video as a tool for building positive teacher-student relationships in an online course

You, as the instructor, get to have all the fun. You get to set up everyone for success. Yay! Video should be one of your go-to tools for increasing your sense of presence and the presence of your students. Seeing people face-to-face, even if it’s recorded, builds a connection.

Your course lectures are one source of video. You can video yourself talking to the camera. Or you can record your screen with your face overlaying in a corner. You can also record your screen with a voiceover. Even that voice will help increase your sense of presence if you’re not comfortable in front of the camera.

You can also use video to make class announcements. If you are leading a paced course, you may way to send out weekly announcements on the state of the course. Video announcements are a great way to help students connect to you, especially if all your lecture videos are voiceover.

One last thing about video. Try to get your students to post to the discussion board and turn in assignments in video occasionally. This will help build connections between students and will help you feel the student’s sense of presence. It may also give you more insight into your students’ learning.

Live chats cannot be underestimated

According to Michelle Pacansky Brock, as noted in an article by Sharon O’Malley, humanizing a course begins with humanizing the instructor. Live video is an easy way to humanize the instructor. It removes the element of distance a recorded video still has.

An amazing way to build teacher-student relationships in an online course is to hold regular live video chats. These can be weekly or every two weeks, depending on how your course is structured. I wouldn’t space them out farther than that, though, or they lose their relationship-building mojo effectiveness.

Live chats in an online class go a long way toward building teacher-student relationships

If you use these live sessions well, you increase student perception of you as the expert, get to know your students and where they are in their learning, and build connections between students that strengthen their learning.

The session should have a short Q & A about recent material, an extension of the material, and a learning activity. These sessions should be optional but you want to make them compelling.

When you extend learning with new material that isn’t in the course itself, you strengthen student perception of your expertise. It also gives students a compelling reason to attend the live sessions rather than watching the recording later.

If at all possible, do a group learning activity that connects students with the material and each other. This provides another compelling reason for students to attend the live session. You can have students group up and work on a team slide in a Google Slide deck you created and shared. You can have them post sticky note responses to something like,, or Google Jamboard. If you have a learning management system that offers a robust discussion board, you can create small group boards for students to discuss in small groups and then a representative can share with the whole group.

Building teacher-student relationships one-on-one in an online course

There are a few things you can do as the instructor that will help you build relationships one-on-one with your students.

First, call them by their name. When an instructor knows the student’s name and uses it, the student feels a sense of worth. Using someone’s name signals to them that you felt they were important enough to remember or to learn. It shows the student you respect them and that, in turn, increases their respect for you.

Remember back in the discussion board section I mentioned asking students questions about their goals for the course? This is where that information comes in handy. Check-in with students at various points in the course. Mention their goals and encourage them to talk about their progress toward those goals, or even whether those goals have shifted. You knowing their personal goals and checking on them individually is a huge connection-builder. You may only have time to do this once or twice during a course, but it’s worth every minute.

The last one-on-on tip I have for you goes back to the beginning of the article where I mentioned you should give timely feedback. It’s not feasible to give feedback on everything that every student turns in. Don’t even try. [candle image]But you do need to give feedback a couple or three times during a course. This process allows you to catch errors in student thinking and help set them on the right course. Giving feedback at strategic times in the course, where you know students get turned around, gives you the chance to make sure they remain on the right path to be successful in the course.

Organization of your online classroom plays a role in the teacher-student relationship

What!? How? Well, students are more comfortable in a setting that is welcoming and easy to navigate. A lot of what we’ve already talked about here addresses the welcoming part. Organizing your lessons, materials, and discussion board has an effect on the relationship as well.

Organization of your material matters

If students cannot find what they need, they get frustrated. The source of their frustration is the creator of the course, who, in their mind, created a hard-to-navigate-stupid-dumb class. There, you see, relationship thwarted. That was fast.

Having an organized file management system that makes sense to students creates a sense of well-being. Students know they will be able to find what they need when they need it.

Online learners need routine, too

I’m sure you’ve heard about classroom management techniques and how important it is to establish routines in the classroom so students know what to expect. It works the same way in an online classroom.

Create a routine for students to submit assignments or respond to discussion board prompts. And keep. that. routine. That’s the key. Consistency creates order for students. They know what to expect and feel they know what to do to meet expectations. If you change the routine, you throw students off and cause them to second-guess themselves and all they are doing in your class.

Changing the routine or, even worse, not having a routine has a negative impact on student perception of the instructor. All your hard work creating a sense of presence and being enthusiastic and engaged in the course could mean little if students are frustrated by your inconsistency.

Pay attention to your virtual classroom physical space

Just like you would think about the physical space in a physical classroom: Can students move around?, Do they have access to the supplies they need to be successful?, Are they comfortable?, etc., you have to think about the physical space of your virtual classroom. This means you need to have everything laid out in a way that seems intuitive.

If you’re using a learning management system that ties your hands in the layout area, there’s not much you can do to fix the layout issue. You need to make up for that with very clear and easily-accessible instructions on where to find things in the course.

If you do have control over your physical layout, make sure it’s not cluttered. Use white space to convey a sense of orderliness. Keep color choices to a few basic and complementary colors. Put the buttons to access information where you would expect to look for them if you were a student.

Organizing your online course to meet the needs of your students tells them they are valued and welcome. That is a great first impression.


Building community between students has a powerful effect on student learning. But you will not get far with that if you don’t first foster a positive teacher-student relationship in your online course. You have to be willing to invest in your students if you want them to invest in your course.

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Looking for More on Creating online Courses?

The Building Community Series is linked at the beginning of this article, but here are a few more articles you may be interested in.