Best Practices Feature

What do belonging, resilience, growth, agency, and civic thinking have in common? All are part of care for self and care for others. And they are all connected by the theory of self-determination. 

Self-determination: posits that humans are inherently motivated to pursue activities that fulfill their basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. 

By recognizing how these mindsets contribute to retention, we can unlock the potential for profound impact in our online courses. It’s essential to understand that these attributes are not bestowed upon students passively; rather, they must be actively cultivated through intentional practices. As educators, we have the opportunity to shape lifelong learning by promoting a sense of belonging through inclusive practices, nurturing resilience by providing support and encouragement, increasing retention rates through meaningful engagement, and empowering students to take ownership of their learning experience through self-determination. 

Designing with Care for Students 

Syllabus, Policies, and Resources: Include a student wellness statement in the syllabus that emphasizes the importance of self-advocacy:  

  • Student well-being is an essential component of academic success. As you navigate this and other courses, advocating for yourself is crucial. When you encounter academic stress, personal challenges, or any other difficulties that are impacting your progress, take proactive steps. Please contact me or explore Marshall University’s resources     
  • Also, consider co-creating some class policies or assessments with students, such as consistent due dates or group expectations. To help students more easily identify wellness-related resources, the Design Center curated several links into a single document, which instructors can copy into their Start Here folder.



The Care and Wellness page organizes Marshall resources under the following categories: Be Well, Explore Resources, Get Involved, and Stay Connected.






















Practices that Online Students Understand as Care 

Online instructors can cultivate inclusivity through intentional course design and delivery strategies that students recognize as care. In their study, Robinson et al. (2020) found that online students indicated several specific instructor practices that contributed to a climate of care. The researchers organize these practices into Noddings’ framework for ethic of care (practice, confirmation, modeling, dialogue) to emphasize the ways in which instructors can form and maintain intentional relationships with studentswhich contributes to their academic resilience (Noddings, 2013; Robinson et. al, 2020). 


Optional Virtual Office Hours: Regularly invite students — through class announcements and individually — to meet with you during office hours. Since students may be unfamiliar with office hours, suggest reasons they might join office hours and what to expect during their virtual visit. Because the class Teams link is open to other users in the class, encourage students to use Bookings to create a private link.  

Check-In Surveys: Informal check-ins with students can give students an opportunity to provide feedback and communicate their needs while there is still time to make adjustments. Including check-ins such as a Getting to Know You survey, and a Midterm Check-In Survey signals to students that you want to support their success in the class (Carello and Butler, 2022; Pecansky-Brock). Try these tips from the University of Pittsburgh for increasing the response rates and understanding the results. Monitor the responses and be sure to reach out to students who mention difficulties they are having with the class or in their personal lives.  

  • Share key takeaways: Taking this a step further to the survey results gives instructors an opportunity to model growth mindset and transparency—and make students feel heard. Share what you learned from the survey (without naming students) and the action you plan to take. For example: “I learned from the midterm survey that several of you are struggling with time management, so I’m sending a video of the Pomodoro Technique, which is a strategy that I often use.” Or, “I noticed that there is still some confusion about [this course concept], so I am working on a video to address some of your questions.” This would also be a good opportunity to remind students about relevant academic and support resources. 
  • Not sure where to start? Go to our Ultra Instructor Resource Center to see our Midterm Check-In survey and other resources. Our brief and customizable survey asks students about their progress in the class and what would improve their learning experience. If you would like a copy of the survey to use in your classes, email 

Connect Students to the Community 

  • Social Forums: The Design Center recommends including a discussion forum the first week of class for students to introduce themselves. This is an opportunity for them to get to know one another and feel more comfortable engaging in the class. Providing space for students to interact in low-stakes or optional social forums (sharing tips, recommendations, or study opportunities) throughout the semester continues to build community and communicate care (cite this). Consider asking students what they are looking forward to in the class, how they became interested in this field of study, or to share one thing they are grateful for. For an example from the Marshall Online team, see how we responded to the icebreaker, “What/Who is your professional north star?”  
  • Online Student Engagement: Encourage students to connect with the Online Student Engagement team. They can help students find resources, offer advice, and help them get involved 
  • Wisdom Wall: Give students opportunities to contribute to projects that allow them to use their experiences to help other students. For example, this Wisdom Wall asks students to video themselves responding to the questions, “How were you feeling at the start of the course and what do you wish you had known then?” This project gives students a chance to actively care for others  
  • Marshall Community Apps: Encourage students to sign into the Marshall U App and the Better You App with their Marshall email. 

Sustaining Care for Faculty 

Practicing care also means modeling for students the behaviors that make us more resilient. 

Determine boundaries:  

Seek connection: 

  • Just as we strive to connect students to one another and to the right resources, we should do the same for ourselves. Support your own well-being by seeking out colleagues and experiences that reinvigorate you. If you need support in course development or distance teaching, connect with an instructional designer, the Distance Learning Community on Teams, or the Center for Teaching and Learning. 
  • Rather than focusing on self-criticism, which can be unproductive, gain perspective and take action by practicing self-compassionate reflection. According to Neff (2003), the three components of self-compassionate reflection are: 
  1. Self-Kindness (instead of Self-Judgment): Being kind to ourselves “allows us to feel safe and puts us in a better frame of mind to cope with challenges or make needed changes.” 
  2. Common humanity (instead of Isolation): Acknowledging that we are human helps us “recognize that our suffering connects us rather than separates us from others.” 
  3. Mindfulness (instead of Over-Identification): “Taking a balanced, mindful approach to our suffering [means that we] neither suppress nor exaggerate it.” (Neff, 2003). 


To apply self-compassionate reflection to teaching and learning, try this chart from Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching, which uses Neff’s model to shift from Self Focus reflective questions to Student Focusreflective questions. 

More Resources 

Teaching Practices that Promote Well-being 

This guide from the University of British Columbia offers strategies for course design and instructor behaviors that promote well-being throughout the semester. These are broken down into categories based on how challenging they would be to implement: “easy to implement,” “require some preparation,” or “requires careful preparation.”  

Faculty Toolkit on Digital Inclusion ( 

This guide from NYU’s Center for Teaching provides strategies for inclusive teaching and practices for balancing care for students with instructor self-care. 

Being Kind to Yourself | Hidden Brain Media 

Based on her studies with college students and professionals, Dr. Kristin Neff discusses in this podcast how self-compassionate reflection motivates self-improvement, increases conscientiousness, and improves well-being.  

Assessing Student Needs in Your Course | Online Course Development Resources | Vanderbilt University 

This page provides examples of the types of questions to ask students to assess their needs and includes example surveys across disciplines. 


Carello, J. and P. Thompson (2022). What are we centering? Developing a trauma-informed syllabus. Trauma-Informed Pedagogies: A Guide for Responding to Crisis and Inequality in Higher Education, edited by Phillis Thompson and Janice Carello, pp. 203-217. 

Fowlin, J., Sandhu, B. & York, S. (2021). Self-compassionate Teaching: Putting on your Oxygen Mask First. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.  

Neff, K. D. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneselfSelf and Identity, 2(2), 85-101. 

Noddings, N. (2013). Caring: A Relational Approach to Ethics and Moral Education (2nd ed.). University of California Press.  

Pacansky-Brock, M., Smedshammer, M., & Vincent-Layton, K. (2020). Humanizing online teaching to equitize higher educationCurrent Issues in Education, 21(2).  

Robinson, H., Al-Freih, M. & Kilgore, W. (2020). Designing with care: Towards a care-centered model for online learning design. International Journal of Information and Learning Technology, Vol. 37 No. 3, pp. 99-108.  


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