It’s September! The leaves on the tree in front of my house are falling, Staples is packed and my virtual classroom is almost ready to go. Here are three things that I do at the start of the term to try and get my online students off to a good start:
1. Reminders and notifications - I’m spending some quality time with the calendar. My course is running on the Desire2Learn (D2L) LMS which allows me to create reminders in advance and release them to students on the “start date” I designate. Students can subscribe to receive reminders by text message, external email or RSS. In an online course, I’m aware that it might be easier for students to disconnect so my first news item highlights how to subscribe to updates and encourages them to log on often.
2. Online icebreaker - When I’m facilitating in person I always like to do an icebreaker, even if it’s just going around the room and having each person introduce themselves to the class. In my online classroom I’m including an Introductions discussion forum to allow students to introduce themselves to each other. I include a few typical leading questions regarding their college experience so far, such as:
- what is your program of study?
- what is the most valuable course you’ve taken so far?
- what do you hope to gain from this course?
- what career are you pursuing?
I also like to include some random questions about their life outside of school, which will hopefully allow students to connect with a classmate who has a similar interest or background. For example:
- in your (infrequent) spare time, what do you like to do?
- where is your hometown?
- what is your favourite tv show or movie?
The “Introductions” forum also serves as a practice run for composing discussion posts and replying to classmates. Hopefully students can work out any kinks so that when they are being assessed on their posts, they are confident in how to do it.
3. Welcome video - I want my students to know that I’m a living, breathing human being and there’s no better way to do that than welcome them to the course with video instead of text. This is a bare bones production complete with unflattering fluorescent lighting and no witty script, exactly how it would be in the classroom on the first day. I upload the video on Youtube and use D2L’s “insert stuff” tool to embed it on my course homepage. I’m hoping that having an idea of who I am makes them feel a bit more connected to the course.
After a few weeks, there’s always something that I wish I had included at the beginning of the term. I’ll make sure to keep you posted on my “should haves”, successes, and miserable failures. Feel free to comment below to let me know how you prepare your online classroom.