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Timing announcements to coincide with periods of highest course activity

Black and white photograph of Two large megaphone or public announcement speakers
Megaphone by Bruno Buontempo licensed under Creative Commons.

There’s been solid evidence for decades that frequent faculty-student interactions can have a powerful, beneficial effect on student persistence. Studies have consistently found that the frequency and clarity of communication between students and faculty can predict student success better, in some cases, than characteristics like socioeconomic status or prior educational attainment. (If you’re looking for a good summary of some of this research, this paper by scholars at Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Research offers a nice overview in its introductory section.)

One small but important implication of these findings is that frequent communication–especially if it is topical and related in some way to the intellectual matters of a course–is an excellent way to promote student persistence. This follows common sense as well, since it’s not surprising that when students see their instructor takes the time to send messages, post announcements, or contribute to online course discussions they’re more likely to feel that instructor is invested in their success. Small actions can have a big impact. Something as simple as a weekly announcement previewing what’s coming in the week ahead or providing some context for a new topic or assignment may be all that’s needed.

But when is the best time to send or post such an announcement? Timing does matter, since it plays a role in how soon your students will see your message and, consequently, the level of immediacy it lends to the communication. Well, data from Canvas can give us some insight into the times when students are most likely to log in to their courses. Consider the following graph showing student activity in all of EvCC’s Canvas courses during Fall 2016. With the exception of the first week of the quarter, a clear pattern is visible and persists throughout the quarter, even as total activity declines slightly: Mondays are by far the most active days; Saturdays the least. Apparently–and this comes as a great surprise, I’m sure–students like to think about things other than classes on the weekends. Who knew?

A bar chart representing daily activity in all EvCC Canvas courses for Fall 2016. Bars representing Mondays have been marked with a colored dot; with the exception of the first week, Mondays are shown to have the highest level of activity.
This chart illustrates aggregate activity in EvCC courses that used Canvas during the fall quarter of 2016. The bars marked with red dots are Mondays.

Make of this pattern what you will, but to me it holds one very practical lesson for communicating with students. By posting an announcement on Sunday evening, or first thing Monday morning, you can be fairly sure that the majority of students will see it within 24 hours. If you’re sending a message to students on Friday, though, it’s likely that many won’t read it until early the following week. So if one of your goals is to make communication with students feel timely, and to reach them when they are most likely to be receptive and looking for information from you, then posting or sending new messages on Mondays seems like a very safe bet. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t communicate with students at other times, of course, just that messages you want students to see fairly soon after you post them are probably best kept for the beginning of the week.

Canvas Tip: You can view activity charts like the one above for your published Canvas course by clicking the “View Course Analytics” button from within the course. You can learn more about course analytics in the Canvas Guides.

[Edited 1/11/17: typo correction]