5 Tips for Humanizing Your Online Course

graphic of seated student looking at giant computer screen of classmates
Course DesignOnline Learning
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Essie Childers is a professor of Student Success at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas


Many of you may remember the clip from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off featuring the Boring Economics Teacher. The professor had a monotone voice and talked like a robot. There was no interaction from students other than blank faces akin to deer looking into headlights. Can you imagine this professor teaching online when the face-to-face students in the video are disengaged?

In moving to the online setting, some students may find the format frustrating, cold, and isolating. Covid-19 mandates social distance in person, but it does not apply online. Connect with your students by humanizing your class.

Humanizing your course means allowing students to see you as a person, not a talking head. It also means finding ways to create a community of learners, which leads to motivated and engaged students. Here are five ways to humanize your online course quickly.

Send a Video Introduction

Introduce yourself in a warm, inviting way through a short (two minutes or less) Flipgrid or Screencast-O-Matic video. Talk about your college jobs, how you decided on your major, your hobbies, your goals, etc. Show slides to help students see that you have a life outside of school. End the video expressing how excited you are to be their instructor for the semester. You may want to send the video via email or use it as a model for their first discussion. Students will view your introduction in a discussion forum, reply with their own introduction, and respond to two other students’ video introductions. Sharing your personality with students will help them get to know you better as a person.


Host Visiting Hours

It is not uncommon for students to view a request to see the instructor as unfavorable. So, several years ago, I changed the title of my “office hours” to “visiting hours.” The phrase, visiting hours, is more inviting and has a casual connotation. Using Zoom, I schedule a set time for students to ask questions about the course, receive clarification on an assignment, or just talk. Sometimes students just want someone to listen. Students also have the option of making an appointment that works with their schedule. If you have a synchronous class, open Zoom 10 minutes earlier to visit (off-topic) with students. The few minutes before class gives you another opportunity to show your human side as a professor.

Answer Emails Promptly and Personally

You may be thinking, “Why is answering emails listed as a way to humanize your class?” In serving as a student success coach, I’ve heard students share how frustrating it is when instructors fail to respond to their inquiry emails or respond several days later. Online teaching best practice is to respond in a timely fashion to student emails. Furthermore, if possible, personalize your email by using the student’s first name. Your technology department can assist you with personalizing your emails. Early, positive visits with students promote retention and will motivate them to log in to your course week after week.

Create Narrated PowerPoints

Narrated PowerPoints will never be a replacement for face-to-face instruction, but your students love to hear your voice. I suggest you provide students with guided notes while listening to the PowerPoint to create their study notes. Try to keep your PowerPoint to 20 minutes or less. While creating narrated slides can be time-consuming, your students will thank you at the end of the semester.

Provide Weekly Updates

Every Monday, I post a Motivational Monday Video that is less than 5 minutes long. I begin the video with upbeat music to grab their attention. The next slides display a brief overview of the week’s assignments, a motivational quote, and a video. One student stated, “My professor posts these motivational videos every week. When I watch the videos, they make me feel very motivated to get my work done, and I strive to be a good human being in the world.” Students want instructors who care and will motivate them the entire semester. Moviecomm.com can help you deliver short, eye-catching messages to your students using inspirational movie clips.

Creating a video introduction, hosting visiting hours, answering student emails, creating narrated PowerPoints, and providing weekly updates are several ways to humanize your class. In doing so, you are making a warm, inviting space where learning can flourish for your students—even amid a pandemic.


For more tips creating an online course your students will want to attend and engage with, check out these how-to videos led by two instructors with over 30 years combined experience developing and designing online courses. They’ll explore all the free templates, guides and rubrics they developed for Cengage to help faculty create their own effective online courses.