yearbookMy first year teaching I did something that could be described as neurotic, but was genius. I can take credit for the neurotic part but not the genius piece. I remembered that my late wife, Angela, had brought home some yearbooks the summer before school started. She was using it to put names and faces together. I took it up a notch, photocopied the pages, cut them out with the paper slicer, and made my own set of student head-shot flash cards.

On the first day of class, when a student raised his hand and I called on him by name, the entire room let out a gasp of disbelief (they were probably also wondering what other information I had on them). What I had learned from my wife was that this kind of first impression is powerful: it will demonstrate how much you care about your students as individuals, that you are paying attention (for some reason students assume we are not), and that you are one step ahead of them.

But how do we do this online?
1. Let them know that they are known. This is really quite simple. Always address every communication to every student by beginning it with their first name. There is no word more attractive to our ears or eyes than our own name. It lets your student know that what you are sending over is not a generic grading comment, but an insight that you have crafted and directed to them as an individual.

2. Keep notes on your students. Each semester print off a hard copy of your class or group lists and keep notes on your students. I share a few more details on this in my online teaching guide, Excellent Online Teaching.