Course Communication Tips – Fall 2023 Newsletter 3

By October 5, 2023April 5th, 2024Smeal Academy Newsletter

Smeal Academy Fall 2023 Connections Newsletter 3 – Course Communication Tips

The goal of the Smeal Academy is to equip the Smeal community with best practices and strategies for teaching and learning with technology to support Smeal’s business education and research needs. This newsletter provides some tips, pointers, and best practices to elevate course communication as we move through the semester.

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Creating and Sharing a Communications Plan

Establishing and maintaining clear, consistent communication through defined channels is an essential strategy in your course design that allows your students to focus on learning. But what are the best channels for you, and how do you communicate effectively?

Students need clear guidelines for communicating with you and their peers as they navigate your course. Planning to manage your own communication and communicating the details will eliminate anxieties and help students concentrate on the lesson content. Here are some tips for creating and sharing a communications plan for your course(s):

  • Set expectations: Let your students know when and how they can reach you, and make this clear to them in your syllabus or on your Canvas home page. Be sure to include when students can expect to receive a response. If your students know that you will respond within 24-36 hours, it is less likely you will receive repeat emails. Make the timeline realistic for your workload.
  • Establish communication channels: Make strategic choices about which communication tools you will use. You could use announcements to send messages to the whole class, use the Canvas inbox to message an individual student, or create a discussion board to create a thread to crowdsource information among your students.
  • Set notification preferences: Be sure to inform your students to update and set their notification preferences in Canvas to ensure they receive your course communications in a manner of their choosing–and be sure to set your notifications, too!
  • Make a plan: Identify key points in the semester when students need reminders, advice, and encouragement. Regular communication with students shows your engagement with the course and helps students stay up to date in a course even if they need to miss a class.
  • Identify efficiencies: Even though emails to students can be sent anytime, don’t allow them to take up all your time! Instead of responding to many individual student emails, find ways to answer student questions en masse. This might include weekly Canvas Announcements to the whole class, curating a list of FAQs as student questions come in, or creating a Canvas Discussion where you, TAs/TSSs, and students can all respond to questions.
  • Set the tone: Use plain language and avoid technical jargon or commands (except when necessary for the course discipline). Address your audience directly and switch out common terms for more inclusive language. Try to provide tips, resources, and suggestions that could help any student.
  • Make communications accessible: Keep messages focused, frequent, and actionable while using inclusive and affirming language. Be sure you are also using accessible headers and proper formatting.
  • Maintain student privacy: FERPA requires that student information such as assignments, grades, and communications are handled safely to protect confidentiality.
  • Student interaction guidelines: Regularly communicating your expectations around respectful and productive class interactions can help create a safe learning environment for students. Commenting positively (e.g., “That is a great question”) when students interact to advance collegial discussions of course topics can also help signal the types of interactions you want to encourage in the classroom.

As we learn more about emerging technologies like ChatGPT and ways to integrate them into teaching and learning, the eLDIG team is here for the Smeal community. If you want to discuss an idea or need for your course(s), please don’t hesitate to contact us to schedule a consultation at

Canvas Tools

  • Canvas Learning Analytics: Provides information about how students are using the site. This information can be useful for reaching out to students who may be inactive or who may have difficulty accessing materials. Of course, analytics do not tell the full story of a student’s learning experience, so it is best used in combination with student feedback.
  • Canvas Inbox: Message students from your class. You can even use smart filtering to message all students from a single section or students in a specific class group.
  • Canvas Announcements: Create announcements to notify your class of important and timely information. Announcements posted before a course is published will not be pushed to students’ notifications.
  • Speed Grader: Leave comments in multiple formats, including text, audio, and video. You can also create a comment library to include the same language for multiple students.
  • Gradebook “Message Students Who…”: You can bulk email students using “Message Student Who” to send targeted messages to students. Messages can be sent based on various assignment statuses.

Upcoming Sessions

Smeal Academy Session: Policy 42-27, Election Day, and Contingency Planning

Did you know there’s a new Faculty Senate guideline in Policy 42-27 stating that “Instructors should provide, within reason, pedagogical and curricular necessity, the opportunity for a day consisting solely of remote asynchronous instruction on a November election day?” In this session, we will share some strategies and best practices for asynchronous instruction and contingency planning for those days and times when plans change and instruction must go on. This session is designed for instructors and staff who support Canvas courses. Join us on Friday, October 13th at 9 am via Zoom. This session will be recorded and made available on the eLDIG website following the session.

Tariff Center Smeal Academy Responsible Use of Artificial Intelligence in Business Education and Research Reading and Discussion Group – Group Times for Session 1

Join us for the first session of a Smeal series on the role of artificial intelligence in our teaching and research, which will focus on our shared commitment to prepare leaders to responsibly leverage artificial intelligence in business. This session will be led by Dr. Michelle Darnell, Director of the Tariff Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility, in collaboration with the eLDIG team. Details about readings will be included in the meeting invitation.

  • Option 1: Monday, October 16th at 9 am
  • Option 2: Wednesday, November 8th at 10 am

Smeal Academy Session: Universal Design for Student Wellness.

Course design and teaching strategies to support student wellness and mental health. This will be a follow-up to our Summer Book Club that read Mind Over Monsters. Join us on Thursday, October 24th at Noon via Zoom. This session will be recorded and made available on the eLDIG website following the session.

Smeal Academy Artificial Intelligence (AI) + Academic Integrity (AI) Hackathon.

Artificial Intelligence teaching and learning hackathon using design thinking strategies to develop solutions to the AI + AI challenge. This will be a different kind of activity where we will have a kickoff and wrap-up meeting. In between these meetings, working teams will be formed and work together to design solutions to integrate AI teaching and learning strategies and resources into our courses while ensuring that academic integrity remains a top priority. We will refine and define the problem statement at our kickoff meeting with a design-thinking exercise led by Dr. Jeanette Miller and will then form teams to begin our work. We are looking for multi-disciplinary faculty and staff to join us to ensure a holistic, integrated approach to solving this issue we all face. Please email if you’d like to be involved in the hackathon. All faculty and staff who support courses are welcome and will be invited to participate. Please hold the dates of 10/20 from 12-1:30 pm and 11/10 from 1-2:30 pm.

Smeal Academy Sessions in the Works

We are planning a couple of sessions and are finalizing the details as of the writing of this newsletter. Here are the sessions we’ll be sharing more about soon:

  • Supporting Students with Learning Differences: Student accommodations and strategies that will help support the needs of diverse learners.
  • Request a Topic: Is there something you’d like us to discuss in an upcoming Smeal Academy Session? Contact us, and we will take it under advisement in our planning.

NOTE: Recordings and resources from previous Smeal Academy sessions can be found on our eLDIG Website.


  • Tip #1: Utilize Anonymous Mid-Semester Feedback Surveys. Implementing anonymous course feedback surveys mid-semester allows instructors to gather candid input from students about the course’s effectiveness and areas for improvement. This can be gathered using Qualtrics or Microsoft Forms. If you need a Qualtrics account, please email us at
  • Tip #2: Activate Anthology Ally Course Accessibility Report. The University launched a new accessibility tool. Want to see your course score? Here’s how to enable a course accessibility report.

Contact Us

Email us at or fill out the eLDIG Contact form and we will be in touch.