Thursday, September 1, 2022

Authentic Human Connection: A Key Component of a Culture of Care In the Online Classroom

 Bill Davis, Lead Faculty, Department of Organizational Studies, and Sarah Korpi, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Director, Division of Continuing Studies Assistant Director, Learning Engineering Group, University of Wisconsin – Madison 

Bill Davis

Do you want to motivate and inspire your students to reach for higher goals? During our combined 37 years of teaching in higher education, we have had the opportunity to observe the evolution of online classrooms and the unique challenges they possess in terms of engagement. Below are the five key insights and ideas we believe are most relevant to establishing authentic human connections and a flourishing culture of care.

Students Matter | Authentic Human Connection

 We believe students matter, and they are the reason we exist. According to Schlossberg, Lynch, and Chickering (1989, p.21), student success is dependent on the degree to which students feel they "matter." The four dimensions of mattering are:

  • Attention
  • Importance
  • Ego-extension
  • Dependence

Sarah Korpi
Our experience tells us that by being genuine, authentic educators, we demonstrate to students that they matter. Utilizing a positive and helpful servant transformational leadership style is one way to work to build authentic human connection. Servant transformational leaders work selflessly to serve students and equip them for success. They inspire a shared vision, model the way, enable others to act, and encourage the heart. They promote intelligence and problem solving, give personal attention and coaching, and they gain respect and trust.

Building authentic human connection with our learners helps students feel seen and valued and that they belong in our classrooms, all things that promote student persistence and success. According to Maggie Wooll (2021, para. 6): "Human connection is a deep bond that's formed between people when they feel seen and valued. During an authentic human connection, people exchange positive energy with one another and build trust. Human connection makes you feel heard and understood and gives you a sense of belonging." Serving students by being positive, timely, and reliable shows them that you care. What we model for our students through our actions and ways of being is often reflected in how our students interact with each other in our courses; leading by example and demonstrating the behavior we wish to see is powerful. We can further promote student persistence and success by delivering high-quality teaching practices, innovating to find new and better ways to serve and reach students, and by providing caring consideration.

Good Leaders Understand the Culture and Context They Lead, Teach and Coach In

Each group of students is unique, and what works well for one group may not work well or at all for another. As educators, we are the leaders of our classrooms. We understand the course content, the way the course fits into the overall curriculum, the institutional context we teach in, and the dynamics of our unique groups of learners. As the course leader, modeling consistency and staying engaged with learners promotes student success.

Keep students in your line of sight. Involve and engage them where you can, sharing information and rewarding and recognizing the good they do, even if they haven't yet fully reached the learning outcomes. Help them grow their skills, knowledge, and confidence levels by leading and teaching with care. Most importantly, be mindful that some adult learners are connecting to their education for the very first time. Some learners are reconnecting after a significant break in learning. Taking the time to understand your students' situations and the roles they balance is one easy way to promote authentic human connection. In addition, this information can help you to plan each week to serve and support them as they engage with your class and balance their other responsibilities. Being aware of all support resources and sharing them regularly helps normalize utilizing those resources in support of learning.  

Lead and Coach with Care

As you lead and coach with care in your online classroom, be aware of your role's importance and purpose. Always have as a goal to provide students with a meaningful and gratifying learning experience. Keep the main thing the main thing, student learning. Lead with care and emotional intelligence, having a high sense of self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and relationship management. Good leader-coaches understand the content and culture they lead and the situational variables and dynamics in an online classroom.

So, in every student interaction, work to connect with your students, build valuable rapport and provide students with high-quality engagement and feedback. Where you can, be proactive and take the initiative to serve and coach them outside the classroom (one-on-one coaching via zoom or phone, etc.). Be a positive role model, leading by example and putting forth high-quality work, innovation, and caring in all the roles in which you serve students.

Consider these suggestions:

1. Observe and listen to your student's passions and purpose, recognizing any apprehensions they may have.

2. Lead with care when life happens and situations arise. Set the right tone, show empathy and compassion as you listen, and provide valuable advice, and coaching with care. Help students identify and eliminate any road blocks to success.

3. As you coach, remember these tips from Project Manager (2016):

  1. Coaching Leaders:
    1. Unlock potential
    2. Coach with questions

                                                               i.      Ask:

1.       "What is the goal?"

2.       "What are you trying to achieve?

3.       "How can you get there?"

Coaching with care also means providing positive encouragement to your students. Be positive, immediate, and reliable. The impact will be building trust and demonstrating to students that you care.

Purpose, Passion, and Vision

Remember, it is an honor and a pleasure to share in our students' learning journey. You will be sharing and working to enrich, support, and empower your students, and many times they will present opportunities for you to provide valuable advice or role modeling. Be aware of the vital role you play. Value the time you share with each student in every class and work to influence positive outcomes and meaningful results.

It's important to remind your students that the steps they take to achieve their vision include their plans and the processes they implement to achieve their goals. Goals allow students to focus on their objective, mobilize to achieve a goal, and increase their performance (Locke and Latham, 1968). Remind students of visualization techniques so they can imagine how their life will look once they have achieved their goal (Mind Tools, n.d.). Finally, engage in dialogue and help them see their progress and define their purpose, passion, and vision if needed.


Purpose provides students with a sense of meaning and guides their life and career decisions. It helps them shape their goals and gives them a sense of direction.


Passion is a student's sense of energy for something. According to Hudson and McLean (2006), "Your passions are your internal energy source, the fire or determination you have for reaching some destination up ahead. They tell you why you are on this journey and what you want from life. They are your push and pull." These energies might be derived from achievement, a search for meaning, compassion/contribution, and play and creativity. Every adult has the capacity to tap these passions.


Vision is what you hope the world will look like in the future because of your commitments and actions today. An inspiring and meaningful future vision can motivate and move you into action.

Identify and Overcome Barriers to Create Authentic Connection

In the classroom, instructors can use barriers to learning as opportunities to create authentic connection. Barriers create opportunities for outreach and connection and can be celebrated as connection points. As instructors, we can work to differentiate between practices that promote authentic connection in the face-to-face classroom and those that promote authentic connection in the online learning environment. Regardless of modality, reflecting on and mindfully selecting engagement strategies creates the platform for subsequent conversations about identified barriers, and strategies learners can employ to overcome these barriers.

Our education, experience, and board experience in ADEIL - Association of Distance Education and Distance Learning have instilled a strong belief that instructors are a powerful force. They can be transformational servant-style leaders who are authentic and genuine. Instructors can help students change their lives when they choose to pursue higher education. Simply put, instructors can lead, lift, and equip students for success.

According to Rich Diviney (2021), who authored The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance, "You can't hide you (authenticity)." Among the attributes, authenticity is the most important in building trust. Authenticity cannot be fake or copied. Consistency of action, thought and values is the simplest measure of authenticity. Consistency builds trust, and a lack of consistency builds doubt. When instructors demonstrate a positive attitude, lead with consistency and care, and continue to nurture students in their learning continuum, they become authentic leader-coaches. They help create the right learning environment in their classrooms. 


Davis, B. (2021). Balancing roles for adult learners. Retrieved from

Davis, B. (2020). Why passion matters to adult learners. Retrieved from

Diviney R. (2021). 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance. New York. Random House

Hudson, F.M., & McLean, D.P. (2006). Life launch, a passionate guide to the rest of

your life. Santa Barbara, CA: Hudson Institute Press.

Mind Tools (n.d.). Locke's goal-setting theory. Retrieved from

Project Manager (2016). How to Give Feedback [Video]. Retrieved from

UFP Research Fellows Roundtable Session 3

 UFP Research Fellows Roundtable Session 2 reveals key information, analysis and findings from research grants at University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC).   

  • Live Learning Mathematics – Holly Ourso, College of Arts & Sciences
  • Immersive experiences for student engagement – Dan Tinianow, College of Arts & Sciences
  • The Use of Digital Badges to Enhance Student Engagement and Retention – Shari Schwartz, College of Arts & Sciences
YouTube description, "Each virtual gathering will highlight multiple initiatives from the 2021-2022 University Fellows Program. Primary investigators will share brief updates (10-15 minutes) about their initiatives along with any findings that are available at this point, and time will be set aside for Q&A and discussion after each presentation." 

If you are interested in connecting to UAGC YouTube page you can do that by (Clicking Here).