Getting to Know Your Students

Students come to UC Santa Cruz with diverse life experiences, identities, prior knowledge, motivation for learning, and academic and cultural strengths, which creates a unique educational environment in our classrooms. In our remote instruction setting, there are also differences in computer/hardware/software, internet access, broadband capability, and shared home learning environments that our students have, which can create challenges for instruction. The better you “know” your students, the more likely you’ll be able to create an inclusive and equitable classroom experience that provides rich opportunities for learning.

Take a moment to reflect on what you believe are the most important things to learn about your students. Keep these thoughts in mind.

Community Building

Consider setting up a short peer-to-peer introduction discussion post in the first week of classes. On this assignment ask students to take a few minutes to update their Canvas Profile, if they haven’t already done so, by adding a profile picture. Include a "fun fact about you" prompt or "favorite movie, game, binge-watching series" to build student connection and rapport.

Understanding the Student Perspective

Students need to know basic technological facts about remote instruction that are distinct from the content of your course. Information such as how to access Canvas, use Zoom, connect to the VPN (UCSC's virtual private network, which allows you to connect to the internet as if you were on campus), etc. To help with this, we’ve created a template Canvas Module for remote instruction. The module and integration instructions are available for use. Once you’ve added it to your course, you can use it as is or refine it for your students.

Communication with students in a remote setting is even more critical than in your face-to-face courses. Students need to hear from you early and often, and this is a great opportunity for you to intentionally reinforce learning goals. Either before the quarter begins, or on day one, survey your students to get a better sense of their situations. The best ways to administer surveys are through Google Forms or a Canvas Quiz (ungraded survey). In addition to course-specific questions that you will have, we’ve included what we think are some of the most important questions for you to include.

Recall the bandwidth and immediacy matrix. Video conferences, which require high bandwidth and can create high immediacy, may not be viewable in real-time for all of your students. It would be helpful to know, for instance, if your students have access to broadband connections. It’s also important to keep in mind those low-bandwidth, high-immediacy activities like using collaborative documents, discussion boards, or group messaging.

Using surveys to collect student feedback is an essential part of successful remote instruction. The visual cues that can be picked up in the classroom won’t come as easily in an online environment. Check-in with your students early and often, be flexible with their unique situations and follow up on their feedback by implementing their most useful suggestions.

Sample Survey Questions

  • Do you have access to a stable internet connection? (Yes/No, say more)

  • What type of device(s) will you be using to access course materials? (computer, phone, tablet, other)

  • Do you have a functioning web camera and microphone on your computer or device? (Yes/No, say more)

  • What time zone are you taking this course from?

  • Are you aware that there are remote learning resources for students? There’s a wide collection of materials created by instructors, staff and students for students at There are also resources available through the Slug Support Program.

  • What do you already know about this subject?

  • What do you want to learn about this subject?

  • What do you plan to do with the skills and knowledge you gain in this course?

  • Is there anything about you that you’d like your instructor to know?

Sample Google Form Survey

We have provided a sample Google Form template with the above questions for you. If you are interested in using it, follow these instructions:

  1. Navigate to the Forms homepage.

  2. Click on Template Gallery (sort of the top right of the page and not easy to find). Click on the ‘Remote Learning Student Survey’.

  3. A copy of the templated quiz is now in your Google Drive. You can edit the survey description, questions, theme, etc.

Canvas Survey

If you would rather create a Canvas survey, here are the instructions for creating an ungraded Survey:

  1. From your course navigation, click on Quizzes > + Quiz. Select Classic Quizzes.

  2. Under Question Type, select either Graded Survey or Ungraded Survey.

  3. Set other options as desired, such as open/close dates, or allow for anonymous responses by checking ‘Keep Submissions Anonymous’.

  4. Click the Questions tab. Click + New Question.

  5. The question type will likely be Essay Question (for free-response from students), but other question types (such as T/F, multiple choice) can be set up. Ignore the points associated with each question or set them to zero. Scores will not be recorded in the Gradebook.

  6. Write the questions, making sure to click the blue ‘Update Question’ button after each question.

  7. Click Save & Publish when finished.

If you are using Modules (as we recommend), add the survey to a Module for easy student access. Alternatively, students can access the survey from Quizzes on the course navigation if enabled. For more information on Canvas surveys, visit the Canvas Guide.