Why send a welcome letter?
Welcoming a new student in your class is one of the best ways to begin creating student engagement in the course they are about to enter. Making that first impression can be an important part of making a connection and setting the stage for the course. Giving the student a snapshot or glimpse of what their next semester (or year) will be like will help to prepare them for the experience and help them determine if this really is the right course for them.
When you teach a course for UAF Elearning & Distance Education, we will send your welcome letter via snail mail to students approximately 2 weeks prior to the start of classes. Also, be sure that a copy is also included in the course guide or in the course information.
What should the welcome letter contain?
Keep the letter to one page and be clear about what the student is about to begin. Include the following points:
What is the class about?
Go beyond repeating the course description, students can read that in the university catalog, why are you excited about teaching this topic? What expertise to you bring to the topic? We know that you are passionate about the topic or you wouldn’t be teaching it! Explain some of the activities that will be done in the class and how some of these might relate to their personal and professional life. What kind of life-long learning skills will result from completing this course.
What is the best and preferred way to contact you? What is your expected response time? What should students do if they don’t hear from you within this timeframe? Do you have virtual office hours? How do you want to communicate with your students? only through email from Blackboard, only with their UA email? Instant Messaging, Facebook, Skype…
State the prerequisites and tell students what to do if they don’t have them. It is the instructor’s responsibility to make sure a student has the appropriate prerequisites to complete the course. Currently, the UAF Banner system is able to verify prerequisites for students who have enrolled in the core UAF courses (those with the X). This is done automatically when the student registers for the course. In the future this option will be expanded to all UAF courses. If the student is not showing the correct qualifications for taking the course then you need to have a conversation with them to convince yourself that the student is prepared.
Schedules and Deadlines
What are your expectations for a schedule for the class? Are you planning to have weekly assignments due on a specific date each week? or biweekly? Are you willing to provide a more open timeframe with students meeting benchmarks several times in a semester? What is the penalty for missing a deadline? Are you expecting two lessons a week? will you accept more if a student wants to push through the course early?
What is your policy on giving the incomplete grade? using the NB? What about instructor-initiated withdrawal? Will you use it and when?
How does a Student Get Started in the Course
Include material acquisition, technical information, how to “log-in” information, and where to get help if there is a problem.
First Contact Assignment: There is a direct correlation between those who begin engaging in the course at the beginning of the semester and those who successfully finish the course. Within the first week of the semester, there should be some sort of first contact assignment due. The goal is to make contact with your student and to be sure they are able to access the course content as well as to outline what the student obligations are for completing the course. Explain what the assignment is, what the deadline date is, and what happens if the student misses the deadline.
First Assignment Expectations: Procrastination is one of the main reasons why students in distance courses are not successful. It is important that students submit their work in a timely manner. Within the first two weeks of the course, the first content assignment should be due. Explain when are you expecting to receive the first content assignment and what happens if the student misses the deadline. What technical issues might they need to solve before being able to complete the assignment?
End with an encouragement and enthusiasm!