Starting the semester off on the right foot is something we all aim to do, but how exactly do we do it? I found a terrific resource out of Northern Illinois University Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center that helps set a good stage for a new term. I’ll list their suggestions here and, as always, add in my own two cents, especially with respect to online classrooms, since this article is geared toward the the on-ground classroom.
- Make Positive First Impressions. NIU offers several suggestions for ushering in on-ground students, but how do we make positive first impressions on our online students? We can communicate early (send an email with a hello and important orienting information a week or so before class begins), we can set up an icebreaker or introductions forum, and we can have the classroom fully ready to launch, with a complete and detailed syllabus as soon as we are able. And be ready to be available! Most questions are asked in that first week.
- Involve Students Quickly. Another point in the “create an introductions or icebreaker thread” column: The sooner students are engaged, the sooner their comfort level increases, especially in the online classroom. And, as we know from the research, engaged, confident online learners are the most successful ones. Be prepared to reciprocate their participation yourself.
- Identify the value of your course. As the NIU article states, “Not all students come to class with a clear idea of why this subject is important. You may need to help them understand the significance of the course. Do this early on so students will be ready to invest time and energy necessary for learning the subject matter” (para. 9). They offer two suggestions for doing so that can easily be translated online: Connect course with current events and a “Common Sense Inventory” – or an activity designed to debunk common myths and misconceptions in your discipline area.
- Clarify Learning Objectives. Along the vein of “Why is this class important”, it is also important to let students know, up front, what they will be able to do after they’ve successfully completed your course. What information will they learn? What skills will they develop? What competencies will they have acquired? And, make sure these goals align with your student’s goals by asking them what they are hoping to get from the course. If you can accommodate any individual goals that seem reasonable, make efforts to do so in your curriculum planning.
- Establish Rapport and Create an Inclusive Learning Environment. This is especially important in the online classroom, when the distance necessitates extra efforts at rapport establishment and inclusion. Set the stage with a professional, yet informal and genuine writing tone, be responsive to questions, and make sure that you identify the value of every student, especially as they begin to introduce themselves in the “getting to know each other” thread.
The NIU article goes on to offer some other suggestions as well, so give it a read and consider it an exercise in translating advice normally applied to the on-campus environment to the online one that you are teaching in, or are hoping to teach in.
What are some things you do in your classrooms to make sure the term starts off on the right foot? Please leave a comment below!