Normally, in a face to face class, there are so many more side conversations that build trust and community aside from the curricular content. In the online environment this term, I have found that some students still seem to lack trust in sharing their issues on the discussion boards (it's already a month into the term). Many post, but there are some who will email me and tell me that they aren't sure if they should post their question publicly. Others will post a question, and then a few minutes later, as if in shame, say that they are sorry for posting because they figured it out. My response is to ask them publicly to explain how they figured it out, because it will be helpful for others to see. Overall, I've seen some great posting going on, and awesome discussion among members, often leading to strong mathematical questions. However, there are still those who seem uncomfortable sharing in the online environment . . . and I can understand that too.
So, without thinking about any of this, I sent out a message to all my students yesterday telling them how I got sick this weekend and have fallen a bit behind with marking (an apology letter). The response to this was interesting. Because I shared something personal, I got several personal responses back!
This brings me to the question of how much personal sharing is necessary and appropriate, and how does one encourage students to develop an online persona as well?