Student Engagement and Community Building Online
Creating a Course Orientation
Orientations for distance learning courses have the same objectives as those for college: they can facilitate academic and social interactions, increase student involvement, create and enhance a sense of community and belonging in a virtual community and help with student retention. Like a helpful college orientation, a welcoming, well-structured and comprehensive distance learning course orientation can make students feel at ease and prepared to begin the semester with a sense of belonging and positivity. Several key components of an effective course orientation design include explicating course expectations, making sure that students are familiar with and able to use the instructional media used in the course and prompting students to begin to interact socially in the online environment so as to cultivate community building and social connections to one another and to the professor.The following suggestions offer ideas for creating a welcoming, interactive and engaging course orientation that provides students with initial guidelines for course communication and participation.
Guide to Creating a Course Orientation
Create a welcome to the course video (5-7 minutes maximum): Just as you describe your course on your syllabus and would discuss it during a first face-to-face class meeting, the course video should describe your course’s purpose, organization, schedule, key dates and assignments, important course policies and technical/access requirements for the course. It highlights the course’s main themes and the questions the course raises, outlines the course’s learning outcomes and discusses the main course assignments and expectations for doing well in the course. The course video emphasizes aspects of the syllabus that you feel are especially helpful to point out. Some samples are here and here. You may also want to include information on how to navigate the course website/Canvas site as exemplified in this short video orienting students to the structure of the online classroom.
Consider including a visual to complement the orientation course introduction in the form of an outcomes map (example below) that visually displays the course’s intended outcomes as they flow and relate to one another, rather than in the conventional form of a written list that less effectively conveys the relationships that they have to one another.
Create a professor welcome video (5-7 minutes maximum): imagine this video as similar to how you would introduce yourself on the first day of class and as a way to give students a sense of your presence in the course. The video gives students a concise idea of your research, your academic and professional background and may also include some more personal information such as interests and activities outside of academia. A helpful resource is here and another helpful link on professor and student introductions here. A course/professor introduction video that may help as a sample can be found here.
Create and ask students to fill out a Teaching Online Planning Questionnaire (an example is linked here) and schedule brief, individual conversations with each student (depending on your class size) to discuss their responses. The questionnaire poses a few key questions about students’ online connectivity and access to a computer and other devices and invites them to make you aware of any current or anticipated needs they may have. Because access to regular, dependable wifi, a laptop and a quiet place to participate in class may be sensitive for students, be very mindful of approaching these questions carefully and respectfully. Sample of phrasing:
This questionnaire will ask a few questions about your online connectivity and your computer and other devices. If you require any assistance with connectivity or devices, this will let your professor and the College know so that they can help you get the resources that you need.
Create a pre-course checklist to help students understand what’s important for them to know before the course begins. The checklist will help students to feel comfortable with the course structure and content, and familiarize them with how to navigate the course. The text below suggests a possible pre-course checklist with suggested explanatory text:
Sample Pre-Course Checklist
Get comfortable logging into our course and getting a sense of its online structure and content. Are there texts and/or images that pique your interest? Is there something (or more than one thing) that you have a question about? Spend a couple of minutes exploring and finding out.
Update your computer and necessary software
Be sure that your computer is running the latest versions of all of the software necessary for the course. Check that you have accounts for any supplementary media for the course (such as twitter, wikis or video sharing platforms). Also be sure to check that your browsers are up to date
Watch the course introduction video, read the course description, watch the welcome video
Take this opportunity to get better acquainted with your course and professor. Watch and read the introductory materials actively - take some notes and jot down some questions as you’re watching and reading to discuss with your classmates and professor during the first meeting.
Read the course syllabus and make notes
Carefully read the syllabus. Do you have questions about the course requirements? About the course content? Do you have concerns about online accessibility as related to course participation? Note down your questions to discuss with your professor.
Introduce yourself to your professor and fellow classmates
Go to the Introduce Yourself section in our Discussion Forum to write a few sentences introducing yourself and to learn about your classmates and professor. It is completely optional, but feel free to add a photograph of yourself or an image that you would like to share with us all that you feel represents yourself.
Review required course materials and download
Downloading course materials now will save time later and will also be helpful if there are any connectivity issues or geographical restrictions on materials at a later point for any reason.
Check the Course Announcements
Your professor [and Teaching Assistant] will be posting important information here on a regular basis. It is vital that you get familiar with this section and make a habit of checking it regularly.
Including links for key communication in the course and key resources will help to make the students comfortable with communicating and with accessing course materials. Examples of possible links to include are below:
Communication Tools: Quick Links
- Email your Professor
- Email your Teaching Assistant
- Email for Technical Support
Course Resources: Quick Links
- Course Syllabus
- Course Materials
- Course Announcements Section
- Course Discussion Board
Create preliminary working communications etiquette to create a classroom community based on open, honest and respectful communication online with the professor, teaching assistant and classmates on discussion boards and for Zoom synchronous sessions. When the course begins, discuss them together and modify as necessary with students and teaching assistant.
Provide students with some key internal and external links to academic resources on your course/Canvas site to make them aware of the support available to them. Barnard specific links could include information about the Speaking and Writing Fellows; examples of external links could be learning resources for Hyflex synchronous courses provided by other academic institutions.Include guidelines for downloading Zoom and provide the email contact information for technical support for students.