I think we have to look at two different threads here.
One is ensuring we develop constructive relationships with students. This is of course, important in a face to face classroom, but I think it is doubly important at a distance. The VC is an important part of this but there are also many other ways. Many have mentioned the use of emails, which is one way of developing regular dialogue. We also need to encourage students to develop good working relationships with each other. An integral aspect of online courses is the development of community. Not only have I found this in my own experience, but it is also widely recognised in the research literature (many studies on it). Any online course needs a centralised space for discussion and dialogue (much as we have here) - forums (or something similar) are extremely important. Without it a course lacks that central backbone which ties a community of learners together.
The other thread is to look at how we approach the learning. At a basic level, is the course actually interesting? Do students have choices about how they will approach the work (whether content or tools)? Is there sifficient flexibility to allow all learners to bring something different to the table? Or are students forced through a single, non-negotiable path?
I think we should also be looking at the possibility of modularing courses to allow much greater flexiblity. At the the very least shouldn't we be provising some slightly different pathways through our courses?