Scared Senseless? Tips for Calming Students in Online Courses

Today’s student is dependent on and effortlessly navigates technology in most facets of life. Nevertheless, students are often nervous and even scared when asked to learn online. Add mandates for remote learning because of COVID-19, and we are facing the perfect storm. 
In this session, two online education experts will discuss strategies for easing student anxiety in distance learning courses. From informational emails and workshops before the term to effective communication practices throughout, learn applicable tactics to reduce the student fear factor and increase success rates.

Slide Deck
Mindset Boosting – Jo Boaler
Why do people get so anxious about math? – Orly Rubinsten
Boosting Math – Jo Boaler

Resource Websites:
Bitmoji—Bitmoji are personalized virtual avatars that you can save on any devices and use to send funny and more personal messages to your students.
Camtasia—Camtasia 2020 creates video presentations on Windows and Mac. You can record your screen or use a template and add a few effects to create engaging content.
Capture—Formerly known as Jing, Capture is a free resource to create and share screen recordings with video, audio, and annotated screen shots.
GoBoard—GoBoard is a free online platform featuring video conferencing and an interactive canvas that students can use to collaborate on projects together in real time and with incorporated tools like graphing calculators.
Google Voice—Google Voice creates a phone number for free that you can link to your personal phone, to receive and send messages to your students without giving them your mobile number.
Mediasite—Mediasite is a user-friendly video capturing, publishing, searching, and management system.
ShowMe Interactive Whiteboard—ShowMe is a free app for the iPad that records and shares voice-over whiteboard tutorials featuring your writing and other uploads on the screen.
Snagit—Snagit is a screen capture and recording software featuring capture, explanation, and instructive processes.

About the Presenters:

Lea Rosenberry has been teaching college-level math for 20 years. She has a Master’s in education with an emphasis in math education, and over 24 graduate hours in mathematics and statistics. With over 16 years in online education she has experience in curriculum development, creating online content, training and mentoring new instructors, and writing and facilitating online courses. Lea is currently an IT Training Specialist at Penn State and is assisting in the effort to move the University to remote teaching.

Tami Tacker’s online journey began over 17 years ago. In addition to teaching, she has served as the Subject Matter Expert on multiple course revisions and is the Course Lead for Purdue Global’s highest enrollment math class, Survey of Mathematics. She is responsible for keeping the course current and relevant, and building a faculty learning community for the course. She earned her B.S. and M.S. in Mathematics and has taught all levels of mathematics courses both onsite and online.

Webinar Question and Answer Highlights

Connecting students to their instructors

Q: Student fear: students don’t feel connected to the teacher.

A: “It is important to meet regularly… We get together with the students every single week. It is a set time… that gives them a sense of stability and that regularity that they get when they are going onsite.”

A2: “Videos show your face and give you a little bit of a human side. They increase instructor presence and make the students feel more connected to you.”

A3: “Stay in contact with your students. They need to know you’re there. They need to know you care about them and that they haven’t been forgotten.”

Q: Do you have any “catch phrases” that you are able to use to help diminish the anxiousness?

A: Teaching GED, they will tell me outright they have anxiety, but otherwise look for reduced eye contact, shaking, not talking, etc.

A2: If you haven’t looked at the growth mindset stuff, definitely do that: if you make a mistake, it means your brain is growing, which is a good thing. So, we try to reframe it that way.

Q: What if you have no sense of humor?

A: “You don’t have to have a sense of humor to write a humorous discussion. You could find one online that somebody else wrote and put that into your class.”

A2: Also, join FB or social media sites full of other professionals, and they will also post funny things you can share with your students.

A3: With meme generators online, you can find anything you want to say.

Q: What if students ignore email and messages?

A: Sometimes texts will get a response.

Course Structure

Q: Student fear: They don’t know what to expect for the course.

A: “Before the course even begins, there are certain things that have to be nailed out just like with our on-site classes… We have to have a plan. We can’t just go into it thinking, ‘alright I’m just going to email my students, and they’ll email me back and everything’s going to be wonderful.’ Our students need structure, just like they do in our on-site classes. They need to know due dates. They need to know what kind of technology we’re going to be using. They need to know what we expect out of them: how is their going to be determined? How many assignments are going to be due? They need to know these things.”

Q: Do you organize any subgroups so that there is a support system within the class? Are they working on some problems together?

A: Small group discussions in Canvas are great for this– and use breakout rooms in Zoom.


Q: What are student expectations about video technical quality? Low-quality vids can be distracting, and it’s hard to make hi-qual ones if you are sheltering at home.

A: My students liked my poor-quality videos better than the professional ones. I think they felt more connected.

Q: Student fear: Using video on Zoom

A: Agreed— especially if they don’t live in the best of situations.

A2: I stopped asking students for images (it is optional) but instead I link their intro discussion to the material. I don’t have any desire to bridge this power gap between me as an instructor and them.

Q: How do you handle seminar videos?  Do you break them apart or submit them as one long video (i.e. 1 hour, 2 hour, whatever the length of the seminar)?

A: My videos are different lengths, so I put how long the videos are before they open it so they can plan. My students liked that.

A2: “For those regular meeting videos students know will be 1 hour 45 minutes long, I just leave that the way it is. But if I’m creating the video and have a choice on how to break things up, then I do.”

A3: “You should definitely use shorter videos. If you have a 20-minute topic and you can, you should split it up into several small ones. It makes a huge difference for attention span and learning. As long as they’re shorter, in general, people will watch more of them.”

Technological Accessibility

Q: I have been concerned about captioning videos for my ELL and hard of hearing students.

A: If you record your videos on Zoom and record to the cloud it captions automatically, and you can edit the transcript in zoom. Then, embed it in your LMS via your server through your campus for accessibility.

A2: It is easy to edit the auto captions if you post your videos on YouTube.

Q: What about the fact that students are all over the place in terms of their technology? Like what if a lot of students are sharing internet with lots of siblings and parents or in a parking lot?

A: That’s why consistency is SO important, and also be flexible with how many hours they can spend on material. Students that might have been able to spend 4 hours a week on homework might only be able to spend 2.