Helping Students Get Started in an Online Class

First impressions make a big difference in the online classroom. How can you ensure that your online learners feel welcome in the class and that they have all the information they need to get started successfully? In this session, we will discuss strategies for introducing students to the components of your online course and creating a welcoming online environment.

Register for the workshop: Helping Students Get Started in an Online Class

How to Get Started

By providing a welcoming online environment and giving students all the necessary information and resources to get started, you can help students feel more comfortable about participating in the class so that they can be more engaged and successful. Consider these strategies to help students feel welcome from the very start.

1. Send a welcome letter before class starts

You can begin connecting with students by sending a welcome letter a week or so before the first day of class. Include information that helps students know how to prepare for the start of class, such as:

  • Overview of the course and how it is structured
  • How to access the course through WolfWare
  • How the course is laid out in Moodle
  • How to navigate the course in Moodle
  • Instructor contact information and preferences
  • What to do before the start of class

You can use a welcome letter template to get started.

2. Include a Start Here section in Moodle

A Start Here or Getting Started section as the very first module in the course makes it very clear to students what to do first upon entering the online classroom. A Start Here section should include all the information that students need to know in order to be prepared for the class and to understand what the expectations are. These may include:

  • A copy of the welcome letter
  • Instructor introduction video or page
  • Links to important course documents such as the syllabus, course schedule, course overview, etc.
  • Learning with Moodle tutorial for students who may not be familiar with using Moodle
  • Practice activities to help students become familiar with tools they’ll be using in the course

The Moodle Quick Start Course Shell includes a Start Here section that you can edit. View an example of the Quick Start Course Shell and read the User Guide for help in using it.

3. Make important information easy to find

  • Put important documents in the top section for easy reference throughout the semester.
  • Add blocks on the right side of the Moodle page to make it easy for students to access helpful information.
    • Text block: This block allows you to add custom text and images, such as a Meet the Instructor block that includes your photo and contact information.
    • Student Services block: These links for academic, technical, and other student support services are automatically updated for you so that students who need assistance can access it easily.

4. Introduce yourself

Instructor presence in an online course is a huge motivating factor for online students that helps to increase student engagement and satisfaction. Instructor presence means that you are an active part of your students’ learning journeys.  An instructor introduction should say something about you as a person and why you want to teach the course.

  • Create a short welcome video to introduce yourself to students and welcome them to the course.
  • Provide your photo and a written introduction on a page or in a forum post.

5. Have students introduce themselves

Create a class introduction forum for students to “meet” their classmates. Knowing that there are other students in the class that are on this journey experiencing the same things helps students to feel part of a classroom community, which can be a motivating and engaging factor in an online setting.

Best Practices

  • Use a conversational and friendly tone in communications, rather than stiff and formal. If you set an inviting tone and let your passion and excitement about the class shine through, students will also be excited and motivated from the start. Using a friendly tone can also help to ease some of the anxiety they may be feeling about the upcoming semester.
  • Send your welcome letter through email. Most students should have access to their email before the first day of classes. You can choose to create a post in the Moodle Announcements forum, but unless you have changed the availability date of your course in WolfWare, be aware that students will not receive emails from the Announcements forum until the default first day of class.
  • Clarify the structure and function of the course components. Provide some kind of course orientation for students so that they know where to find things in the course and how components work together. Some options for doing this:
    • Provide a description of the course structure and function in the syllabus.
    • Link to or create a course overview page in the Start Here section (you can use this template).
    • Record a screencast or screenshot “tour” of the Moodle course and post it in the Start Here section.
  • Redundant information is okay! You may already have your instructor contact info in your Syllabus, but also including on the main Moodle page makes it much easier for students to find when they need it.
  • Make your instructor introduction personal. Students like to see that their instructor is a real person. A short and simple video allows them to see your face and hear your voice, which makes the connection more meaningful and motivating. When creating an introduction/welcome video, make sure that the lighting is good. Consider using an external microphone so that your audio is clear.
  • Student introductions don’t have to be boring or intrusive. Use creative prompts that can spark conversation. You can ask students to share experiences without giving away sensitive or personal information, or you could have them share a photo of a favorite place or pet.

Examples

Introduction videos

Your introduction video can be really short and simple.

You can also combine your course orientation and instructor introduction into one welcome video.

Student introduction forum prompts

Example 1

Did you know that the enrollment of the class is about # students? 

We hope that the introductions will foster the feeling that, even though we might be in different locations, we are a group learning together.

Please post an image in this forum to introduce yourself to the class. The image can be a photo taken by yourself or found on the internet (please mention source), or it could be just a sketch. The image should show an environment which bears special meaning to you. Write a line or two and tell us why that environment is meaningful to you.

To complete this forum, please post your introduction (with your name in the Subject line) and reply to at least two other students.

Example 2

During the first few days of class, introduce yourself to the class to help everyone get to know you. Of particular interest is your professional and academic information and other information that you feel comfortable in sharing on-line.

  1. Why are you taking this course?
  2. What are your strategies to succeed in this course?
  3. What do you expect to learn in this course?
  4. What concerns do you have about this course?
  5. What is your major?
  6. What do you hope to do after graduation?
  7. What is your favorite hobby?

Please respond to at least one of your classmates introductions as they are posted. This is our chance to get to know one another before the real coursework begins! Click on the Reply button to submit your post.

Start Here sections

View examples of welcome letters, instructor introductions, course overviews, student introduction forums and other practice activities in the Start Here sections of these example courses.

Resources

Workshop Content

View the workshop slides.

DELTA Templates

You can make copies of these Google Doc templates to modify for your own course.

View the Moodle Quick Start Course Shell example and User Guide

Student Resources

Online and Distance Education Virtual Orientation

Learning with Moodle Tutorial

Additional Resources

Recommendations in this workshop are based on research-based best practices outlined in the Quality Matters Higher Education Rubric, Sixth edition. Quality Matters (QM) is a nationally recognized, standards-based program focused on continuous improvement of online and blended courses and programs. For more information about QM and online course improvement, please explore the Course Quality Program at NC State.

Reference

“Standards from the Quality Matters Higher Education Rubric, Sixth Edition.” Quality Matters. Retrieved from Specific Review Standards from the QM Higher Education Rubric, Sixth Edition

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