Thinking about how to welcome students to your class, online, in a live session? Here’s how I do it.
First, track down contact information for everyone. Preferably email, but be prepared to phone.
Set up your online classroom with the first two weeks of assignments. You are sorting your class into weekly modules with daily assignment lists, aren’t you? And of course you’ve prepared your lessons in advance so you know what the assignments are, right?
Link to your live session from within your classroom. This is important, because you want to begin as you mean to go on, and you want students to make a habit of going to the online classroom. You might consider creating a short, low-stakes quiz about the welcome-back session email content as your first assignment.
Email a welcome email. Make it easy to read in a text-only format, and well formatted—this is your first impression, and it counts. Send a test email to another of your email accounts and check it on desktop, a tablet, and a phone.
My email has been honed over the last decade or so to include:
- a greeting with a note about the back to school meeting with the date and time. If you’re creating a quiz about the email as the first assignment, note it here. Give them a link to the class website (which is hosted in your school’s LMS like all their other classes, right? So they have a central calendar with all the assignments for all their classes?)
- a paragraph about myself with my credentials, my hobbies, my location, my family, and our pets.
- a paragraph about course expectations, with strengths and weaknesses of the online course and how we compensate, including a request for any information about special education needs
- a paragraph about the importance of writing skills, manners, and another request for students to reach out
- a paragraph about my teaching philosophy, course structure, and another request for students to reach out
- a handful of tips for success in the class
- a paragraph about the back to school meeting with the date and time, including how to find the link for the meeting
- my name, title
- school name
- emergency phone:
- office hours:
The day before your chosen date and time, run a test session with a trusted friend. Make sure all your systems are go and your presentation clear.
Fifteen minutes before the session begins, I enter the session and load my slide deck. I also enable the chat function so students can chat quietly amongst themselves while we wait to begin.
My presentation includes:
- An introductory slide, with the school logo, the date, my name, and a note that the session will begin soon. This will go up first, before anyone else arrives.
- A series of slides that uses a wordless workshop approach to ensure that everyone can hear me and can use their microphone.
- A slide or two teaching them how to use the chat box, and how to turn off the audio/visual notifications to allow for better concentration. This is the first time I take roll, by having them put their name in the chat box.
- A slide with pictures of me, my kids, my husband, my mother (who lives with us), my teaching license, and some social media screenshots (but I never, ever friend students on social media).
- A slide teaching everyone how to raise their hand.
- A slide teaching everyone how to set their “away” status. I don’t want students to interrupt my class by asking permission to go to the bathroom—they just set their status and go. Neither do I want to wait for them when I’m polling. If they’re away, they miss the poll. I also use the wordless feedback buttons built into the system in the same place, and we practice using the “confused” “faster” “slower” etc settings.
- A slide teaching everyone how to use the editing tools, so they can practice drawing on the board, using the cursor on the board, typing on the board, and erasing the board. For the first session, I only ask that they find the “pointer” button because…
- The next slide is a generic, not very accurate map of the world. I ask everyone to hover over their approximate location. This builds camaraderie from the get-go, and lets students feel seen.
- The next slide is a screenshot of what students see when they first click into class, and I show them how to find their weekly assignment folders.
- I “open” the assignment folders in the next slide, and show them what it looks like. I also point them to the “help” links, including how to submit a trouble ticket, and how to find directions for accessing recordings.
- Next slide, I back out of the course and show them a screenshot of the central calendar
- Next slide is an overview of the weekly course schedule, with the set days per week that an assignment is due, and I review what kinds of assignments are due on which days. I ask them to use the course tools to answer here (thumbs up to move on)
- Then I have a series of slides with text about course policies, including attendance (separate synch vs asynch policies), textbook reading, cheating, electronic devices, learning differences, learning environment, late policy, assignment formatting (12-point Times New Roman, double-spaced, 1” margins ONLY), assignment prior review, assignment revision, and assignment archiving. We zoom through these—remember, students get a copy of the slide deck to review later. After every other slide or so, I ask students to give me a thumbs up to move on. We’re making a habit of attending.
- Then I have a slide with my communication policy (Be nice), and a reminder about lawsuits from online writing.
- Next slide is a list of examples of meaningful participation for the online, written discussion questions, copied and pasted from my syllabus. Students frequently have questions here, so I take my time.
- Next slide is a list of study skills. We briefly review.
- Next slide is a set of chat room etiquette, and we practice using it (bad and good examples) before we move on.
- Then the next series of slides is where I review the grading breakdown for the course. Rather than make separate decks, I use one deck for all my classes, and just use separate slides of each course's grading breakdown.
- Next slide is a screenshot where I review a model of good online, written class discussion and show them what I’m looking for when I grade it, including how I mark the rubric and why. Students frequently have questions here, so I take my time.
- Finally, if I have time, I have a slide about why we should study what we’re studying in the course.
- Second to last, I have a How To Contact Me slide, including my personal cell phone number in case of emergency. Oh, and I tell them my time zone. They always want to know what constitutes an emergency, so I tell them (and it’s true) that students use this in emergencies: hurricanes, forest fires, flooding, car accidents, and so on, and I’m OK with that.
- Last but not least, I link to the student survey where I ask questions so I can get to know them.
This orientation usually takes a slide 40-50 minutes, depending on student questions. But, after it’s complete, they can come to class without an issue, and have a leg up on finding their assignments.