Welcome Letters and Announcements
Getting off to a good start.
What is It?
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 will be like will help to prepare them for the experience and help them determine if this really is the right course for them.
Ideally, you’ll want to send a welcome letter to the student before the first day of class. The best way would be to review your course roster in UAOnline and send it by email. You’ll also want to include a copy with your course materials just in case you miss someone or the student doesn’t check their email address. You can set this up as a Class Announcement in Blackboard (or other LMS) or as a posting in WordPress.
How Can I Use a Welcome in My Course?
In a face-to-face class, you usually connect with students on the first day of class. You quickly confirm students know where and when to meet. Most faculty give an overview of the course and introduce students to the syllabus. Faculty introduce themselves to the students and often have the students introduce themselves to the class. After this first day, you get an idea of who your students are, you feel confident that they had a chance to ask questions about the syllabus and that they are equipped with the information needed to begin the process of learning and exploring.
In an online class, making the first contact with your students is even more important and can easily set the stage for the rest of the semester. Your class might be a student’s first experience in the online realm. They may never have used Blackboard or their UA username to access email or Google Apps. They may never have been in a face-to-face environment so may not have an understanding of how to get started.
Creating that welcoming environment for your students will get the course off to a great start. incorporating a low-stakes assignment along with that welcome can ensure you that your students are engaged and ready to begin.
Questions and Considerations
What should the welcome letter contain?
Keep the statement to one page and be clear about what the student is about to begin. Include the following points:
- Instructor’s Course Perspective
- Contact Information
- Schedules and Deadlines
- Grading Policies
- How does a student get started in the course — you’ll want to include information about how to find your course material (example: how to access Blackboard or how to find your online website) and where to get help if there is a problem.
Instructor’s Course Perspective
Include a short statement (written, audio recording, visual representation, or video recording) of your perspective on the course. Go beyond repeating the course description, students can read that in the university catalog, why are you excited about teaching this topic? What expertise do 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? Google Meet, Zoom, Slack…
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? Will you have synchronous sessions? Will these meetings be optional?
What is your grading philosophy? Your grading scale will be listed in your syllabus, but if you are able to generalize what your expectations are for your students, this can be very helpful.
How does a Student Get Started in the Course
Include material acquisition, technical information, how to “log-in” information if an alternative website or learning management system is used (Canvas, WordPress, etc.), and where to get help if there is a problem.
End with an encouragement and enthusiasm!
The following list contains a limited set of examples for creating a welcome communication
- Create an announcement in Blackboard (or other LMS) or as a posting in WordPress or Google Classroom site
- Embed a Google Doc into your coursesite or attach a PDF for your welcome
- Create a short 1-3 minutes video using a mobile device or a loaner camera from eCampus
- Reserve time in the eCampus Studio for a professionally created welcome message — contact eCampus to set this up
- Use a screencast to introduce you and your course to students
- Try Powtoons to grab student’s attention
- Cung, B., Xu, D., & Eichhorn, S. (2018). Increasing Interpersonal Interactions in an Online Course: Does Increased Instructor Email Activity and Voluntary Meeting Time in a Physical Classroom Facilitate Student Learning? Online Learning, 22(3), 193-215.
- Lehman, R. M., & ConceiÃ§Ã£o, S. C. O. and (2010). Creating a sense of presence in online teaching: How to “Be There’ for distance learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (Book review by Enciso, J. (n.d.). Creating a Sense of Presence in Online Teaching: How to “Be There’ for Distance Learners, Nacada Journal 35(2).
- Phillips, W. (2011). A study of instructor persona in the online environment. VDM Verlag Dr. MÃ¼ller. KG, Germany.
Helpful How-To Instructions
We’ve discussed a number of ideas that you may want to implement in your course and a number of technologies that you might find useful. Here are some services we suggest to help you implement those ideas. The links will take you to the instructions on how to use the various services. If you’d like to learn more in-person, please attend on of our iTeach+ Workshops or feel free to contact a Designer with questions.