Put Yourself in Their Shoes: How to Check in with Students in an Online Learning Environment

Four red sneakers tied together with shoe strings

Exhaustion, fear, panic, the unknown…these are common words that educators have repeatedly expressed since COVID-19 appeared in early spring. Many K-12 and university courses have had to move completely online and overall, there is a lingering feeling of disarray across the entire educational community as this retrofitting occurred. The panic and urgency also became prevalent in students during this transition, with signs of struggling, not only academically, but rather emotionally. At this point, educators need to have systems in place to check in with students more frequently. While different check-in methodologies were part of ‘normal’ classroom/coursework pre-pandemic, it now seems more urgent than ever. Students need to be reassured and comforted in a way that many educators have possibly never encountered. Below, we will talk about some ways that faculty or classroom teachers can check in with their students.


Padlet is a free website that creates a space to place virtual sticky notes. Using this tool, students can post their thoughts in a visual or written format, and it can be used as an easy way to gauge students’ emotional well-being or do a quick check for comprehension of a specific topic discussed in class. For example, if an educator wants to check in on students’ emotional well-being, have students post a meme or gif that represents how they are feeling.  This is a quick and easy way to visually see the overall emotional climate of your class and who you might contact individually through an email or phone call.  Another example of how Padlet can be used is through a discussion type format. Teachers can pose a starting discussion thread to which students have to respond to by creating a Padlet entry. Other students can respond to each other and the teacher can also respond with further questions or resources to links that further the discussion. This is a free resource.


Oftentimes, asynchronous courses can leave teachers and students feeling a bit disconnected. One way that helps in maintaining a more personal feel is by incorporating FlipGrid into assignments. FlipGrid is a free, online platform for educators that allows students and teachers to post videos in response to an initial topic or in response to another person’s FlipGrid.  Flipgrid allows educators to see if students understand the content based on their video, and both educators and students can comment on videos through a text or video response, share likes or stickers, give feedback via a rubric or video response, or share the video with others. For example, as opposed to posting an academic question in your Flipgrid, educators could also ask students for input about where they are struggling most or finding success. In addition to using Flipgrid for academic purposes, it can also be an effective tool for monitoring social and emotional input from students, and comments provided in Flipgrid can be shared across students and provide valuable information to not only the instructor, but other classmates as well. Flipgrid videos can indicate social emotional or body language cues that might suggest student distress and cue an instructor to reach out. 

Bonus questions

It can be difficult for educators to wait until after a semester has ended to receive feedback from students about the course through traditional course evaluations. Typically, course evaluations are sent to students near the end of a semester and results of those course evaluations aren’t received until sometime after the next semester has begun. Instead of waiting to receive this type of student feedback, educators can provide bonus questions on any assignment.  Bonus questions can ask students for feedback on assignments or quizzes and might include questions such as: “How are you doing in this course? What are some things that are helping to facilitate your learning?” Examples of student comments that could be received through this method include: “Class is going well, but the last two weeks have been tough because my laptop is broken.” “Those reminder videos you posted were very helpful.” “I really like that you host Zoom calls! I was unable to attend because I have a class at that time, so maybe change up meeting times per week or however often you plan to host them.” The great aspect of the bonus question method is that student feedback is in real time and teachers can make immediate adjustments to best meet the needs of the students in their class/course. 

Optional virtual meetings

Hosting optional virtual meetings can assist students who need additional interaction or reinforcement with class, and hit on multiple methods of engagement because of the one-on-one support, additional instructions, engagement in student questions, and explanation of upcoming assignments. Virtual meetings can be capitalized upon by recording the meetings because when they are recorded, all students that could not attend have access to the video and information that was discussed. It is easy to become disconnected with students in an online learning environment, especially when your only way of identifying students is through a tiny thumbnail picture on their learning page. When a virtual meeting is integrated into instruction, students can begin to gain some face recognition of their instructor and classmates. The drawback is that there may only be one or two students from your entire class that attend, but it may be that those one or two students desperately need the interaction. 

Email check-ins

When all other methods of communication and interaction with students have been exhausted, a good old-fashioned email is a viable option. Email works well when a student has consistently neglected to turn in or attempt multiple assignments. When composing emails to students, it is important to keep the tone non-accusatory (e.g. if you are writing them about a missing assignment). Instead, use the email as a means of checking in to find out what is preventing the student from completing course work. Unfortunately, sometimes the student response can be personal, so faculty need to be prepared in how to respond if the student is experiencing some sort of trauma and provide additional university resources. 

Online check-in strategies for virtual learning, especially during COVID-19, are a must. Students need to feel connected and heard more than ever, whether it be through written, video, or virtual meeting components (e.g. Zoom, etc.). While there is not an absolute perfect method for student check-in, the strategies discussed above are plausible options that can be used in an online learning environment. Selection of methods should depend on the structure and content of the course, population of students, and familiarity of technology platforms. Regardless of the manner in which educators check in with students, it needs to be a high priority during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Randa G. Keeley, PhD, is an assistant professor at Texas Woman’s University with a research concentration in classroom interventions that promote inclusive learning environments for students with special educational needs and disabilities. Her research interests include the application of quantitative and qualitative measures to analyze the effects of inclusive practices, culturally responsive teaching, and co-teaching as they relate to the teacher and student. 

Maria B. Peterson-Ahmad, PhD, is a visiting associate professor of special education at Texas Woman’s University.  Dr. Peterson-Ahmad’s research interests surround bridging the gap between general and special education through enhancing and improving teacher preparation experiences, particularly through high leverage practices.  Additionally, she is interested in training pre-service teacher candidates how to become increasingly fluent in individualizing interventions for students with learning disabilities, through instructional coaching and simulated learning experiences.