How Snapchat, Zombies, and Twitter Can Humanize Learning

Recently, I sat down with Mike Smedshammer from Modesto Junior College to discuss his thoughts about humanizing online learning. In our conversation, he shared why this topic is so important to him and the students we serve in the California Community College system. He also shows how he used Snapchat, Twitter, and zombies to make himself more approachable.

Research about online learning shows that having an engaged, caring instructor is a critical part of supporting the success of college students, regardless of a course’s modality or the type of institution a student attends. A recent Gallup poll showed that college graduates who recall “having a professor who cared about them as a person, made them excited about learning, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams” had more than twice the odds of being engaged in their work and being personally fulfilled. In fact, that poll showed that meaningful, supportive relationships with instructors played more of a role than the type of institution the student graduated from.

When we hone in on this topic and apply it to students who attend community colleges, it becomes an even more vital component of student success. At community colleges, we serve more students who are the first in their family to attend college. First-generation college students often experience self-doubt, come from lower income households, work full-time, and juggle a complex array of family responsibilities. Further, a 2017 report from Community College Equity Assessment Lab (CCEAL) found that about half of the 2.1 million students enrolled in California’s community colleges have worried about where their next meal will come from and one in three feel uncertainty about where they will sleep tonight.

When underserved students learn online, the importance of having an approachable, caring, supportive instructor becomes even more critical. Studies show that community college students who learn online are more likely than face-to-face students to report needing to teach themselves, which is a result of having a poor connection with their instructor. On the flip side, online community college students who report having an instructor who cares about them are more likely to succeed in their class.

The evidence is clear. Instructor-student relationships improve student success, especially in online community college classes.

Creating a safe, trustworthy environment in which our underserved students feel comfortable to approach their instructor, ask questions, and share their challenges is an important part of serving a diverse student population. But when you teach online, you must deliberately and mindfully craft your human presence through the use of digital tools, which can feel like a daunting task. Fortunately, there are plenty of tips and strategies to consider. And @ONE has you covered with a new course coming this spring!

Enjoy the video of my chat with Mike. We invite you to share a comment at the bottom of this page. We’d love to hear your thoughts about the topic of humanizing.

Posted in Articles, humanizing, Online Teaching.

Michelle (@brocansky) is Faculty Mentor, Online Teaching & Learning for @ONE and CVC-OEI and author of Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies. Michelle began teaching in the CCC system in 1999, has been teaching online since 2003, and has been an online educational developer since 2009. She also teaches the History of Photography online for Mt. San Jacinto College. Learn more about Michelle at or connect with her on Twitter @brocansky.

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