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Engaging and Supporting Students


Communication and Engagement

UWinnipeg’s PACE has identified that some of the key motivational elements of online instruction are: engaging and maintaining student interest, establishing relevancesetting expectations for time, and providing continuous encouragement. These principles are similar to classroom teaching, but may play out differently online.

PACE suggests you plan to incorporate the following motivational strategies when you build your online lesson plans:

To engage and maintain interest: 

  • Incorporate interactive features that involve students in practice, reflective thinking, and problem-solving. 
  • Specify the learning outcomes and their long-term benefit. 
  • Challenge student responses in discussion threads by posing questions that have students consider the topic at a deeper level.

To establish relevance: 

  • Appeal to, and encourage sharing of, students’ life experiences as they relate to the course content and outcomes. 
  • Provide real life scenarios, case studies, and examples with which your students can connect.
  • To set expectations for time: 
    • Use your course’s calendar function to post due dates for activities and assignments.
    • Let students know an estimate of time for each activity or assignment.
    • At the beginning of the course, provide students with a course overview that helps them navigate the course material and resources, according to the course schedule, at a reasonable pace. 
    • Provide the students with a module-by-module guide to assist them with readings and assignments (for term-based courses). 

To provide continuous encouragement: 

  • Post course announcements for your students. 
  • Post module summaries or discussion thread responses that articulate student contributions and achievements to date.

Addition engagement tips include:

  • Use the first day to get to know your students, and what they want/ need from the class, rather than simply reading them the syllabus. Understanding their circumstances early on can help prevent students from falling through the cracks, and help you adjust your course to let everyone succeed. This is a quick model from Anel Albertao for opening up and talking with your students about any concerns or needs they may have for online engagement.
  • Remember that students have names (and use them!) - and lives, and many many many things going on right now. If you are concerned about a student, don’t wait for them to come to you - reach out.
  • Build in class time for genuine connections and conversations, rather than “just” learning. Kwantlen Polytechnic has links to PDFs of icebreakers for students.
  • Use your online office hours - reach out to students if none are coming to you.
  • Encourage students to take care of their health and look after themselves. Show Compassion. Pitt’s 5 Instructional Compassion and Equity Reminders can help guide this. Student Services have more resources on Student Wellness.
  • Use Active Learning techniques such as Think-Pair-Share with Zoom breakout rooms, or get students to collectively annotate a document with hypothes.is. Active Learning can be done with both synchronous and asynchronous content.

Additional Resources:

Transitioning Students to Online

 Students may need additional support if they are new to remote learning, or in circumstances that make remote learning more difficult.

  • Try to model compassion and patience. Students will still be affected by the pandemic, and may have life circumstances that affect classroom performance.
  • Make it clear to students you will support them and work with them to solve issues that may arise.
  • Communicate clear goals and next steps in your class. Make sure students know your preferred methods of online communication if they need to reach you, and how and when they can expect you to respond.
  • Connect students to resources. The Learning Hub has a wide variety of student-focused supports, as well as those offered by Student Services.

Equity and Inclusion

Think about equity and inclusion in your online classroom. Some quick tips to do this include:

  • Set clear expectations for promoting equity and inclusion upfront in your class material, and remind students of that commitment throughout the course.
  • Work to reduce your own unintended biases and mitigate their potential effects in your remote classroom. 
  • Be aware of the impact of stereotype threat on the behavior and experiences of students in your remote classroom.
  • Address microaggressions in discussion boards, chats and other places where students interact.
  • Consider accessibility concerns (making sure text and sound is available for anything visual) and that there are low-bandwidth options.
  • Work to make visible academic expectations and norms that are often hidden, and may not be understood by first-generation university students.
  • Use varied assessment types
  • Integrate materials from a variety of diverse cultural backgrounds and scholarship traditions.
  • Build interpersonal relationships with every student, and reach out if there are signs that a student is struggling.
  • Remember that some students may be in different time zones. Some international students may not be able to use all the tech tools in their home country. Plan for alternatives whenever possible.

Additional Resources:

Access to Education

As courses move online, there may be a wide range of access concerns for students.  There may be some students who cannot access the internet from home or who don't have a computer.  Others may be struggling with their finances or need support related to their background as a non-traditional student.   Some students may be deaf or hard of hearing, visually impaired, or have other particular needs related to disabilities or medical conditions. 

Those dealing with a lack of computers or internet service will be able to book a work station on campus.  Find information here: On-campus study and computer space - reservation request form 

Support for financial concerns and non-traditional students can often be provided through these services on campus:

Accessibility Services (AS) and Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services (DHHS):  This department at UWinnipeg is committed to providing academic accommodations to students with documented disabilities and medical conditions (temporary or chronic).  Students who require accommodations will provide AS/DHHS with medical documentation from their medical practitioner.  The documentation will not speak to a diagnosis, but to the student’s functional limitations and the approved academic accommodations.

The University of Winnipeg has made it mandatory to include information on services for students with disabilities and medical conditions in each course syllabus.  Each faculty member is sent an email from the Deans with requirements/recommendations regarding course outlines.

Some examples of accommodations are (but not limited to):

  • Test/exams (e.g. extended time, quiet space, alternate format)
  • ASL-English interpreting
  • Course materials in alternate format

Students with documented disabilities, temporary or chronic medical conditions, requiring academic accommodations for tests/exams (e.g. private space) or during lectures/laboratories (e.g. note-takers) are encouraged to contact Accessibility Services and Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services at 204.786.9771 or accessibilityservices@uwinnipeg.ca  to discuss appropriate options. All information about a student’s disability or medical condition remains confidential.

For more information, please see:  Accessibility Services and Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services


Some basic ways that instructors can strive for universal accessibility in online classes include:

  • Make sure lectures are available as both text and audio. If you write your lectures out, make a recording so visually impaired students can also access it. If you talk first, make a transcript (YouTube has some limited capacity for this).
  • Use simple file formats and avoid PDFs whenever possible. The html in Nexus is more easily readable than a PDF.
  • Keep text simple (no ASCII images) for screen reader accessibility.
  • Provide descriptive and contextual alt text for images, and use headings and structure to help navigate content.
  • Use clear fonts, and make sure any colour combinations can be read by those who are colourblind.
  • Make scanned PDF files more accessible for your students by using an optical character recognition (OCR) online tool to convert "non-selectable" text files into more accessible versions.

Some content originally from the Library’s COVIDCampus Guide.

Additional Resources:


As you start using online tools, please be aware of any privacy implications of the tools you are using, and communicate to students if the site they are using does things like allow for third party re-use of data, records their data, and how that is shared with you as the instructor (if, for example, you will get logs of everything said in chat). Instructors are required to follow the University of Winnipeg Privacy Policy.

The University of Winnipeg Information and Privacy Office has a number of resources for instructors, and can help you assess potential technology tools and their privacy implications:

Additional Resources:

Services and Supports for Students

There are a variety of service options available for students. Some services are provided by UWinnipeg Student Services while others are offered in the community.  (Please note that most services are currently working remotely due to Covid-19.)  Here is a list with contact information:  Services and Supports for Students [PDF] 

All instructors and students are encouraged to download the UW SAFE App, which includes emergency contacts and support resources on and off campus and  is available for iPhone and Android devices. To download, visit the app store ad type “UW Safe” in the search box.

Remember:  When responding to students in crisis, listening in a non-judgmental way and responding in a calm, compassionate manner is very helpful. It is not necessary to say exactly the “right” thing. What is more important is being a caring presence and then connecting students to the resources they need.