What to Include on Your “Getting Started” Page
Helping your students get off to the right start so that they can be successful in your course has always been important, but new challenges that come with teaching in the middle of a pandemic make it even more critical.
If you’re grappling over how to help your students, the post has you covered. We’ll examine the role of welcome or “Getting Started” content, some support tactics you can try, and introductory community-building activities.
The Welcome Module
Call it what you want (welcome, getting started, orientation, course introduction), but what’s most important is that this section of your course is thorough.
First, let’s talk about the role of your welcome module. Its purpose is to:
- Set the tone
- Give an overview of the course structure
- Tell students how they can be successful
- Start building community
If you include nothing else in this section, make sure you have:
- A faculty intro video (It shouldn’t be longer than 5 minutes, but the video needs to feature you on camera. See this intro video blog post for more info)
- Detailed instructions about how to set up any technology used in the class
- Information about anything they need to do before they can start coursework, such as completing lab safety training
The technology instructions should cover everything from Blackboard tools like Collaborate and Respondus Lockdown Browser to publisher tools and homework submission tools like Gradescope. It’s also crucial to include technology support contacts so that students will know who to contact in the event of technology errors or failures.
This next part might be kind of annoying, but you also need to use your welcome module as an opportunity to call students’ attention to important syllabus topics such as:
- Technology requirements (this is different from the technology setup info)
- Information about how student work will be evaluated (complete with links to grading rubrics and any grade breakdown info)
- Your office hours and availability
Does this mean that I’m asking you to duplicate content? Yes, it does. But think of it this way: You have to repeat yourself sometimes when you’re teaching. The most important concepts are worth repeating. The same holds true here.
Next, be sure to use your welcome module to point students to important components of your Blackboard course. You can do this within your course video, or with screenshots or just a description. Tell students where they need to navigate in the course to find:
- Announcements or updates from you
- The calendar or course schedule with assessment due dates
- The place(s) to submit assessments
Finally, to round out the welcome module, tell students what to do next to advance in the course. This is a great place to link to a community-building task such as a course introduction discussion board.
“Getting Started” Support Tactics
Beyond your welcome module, you can try a few other things to help your students prepare for class and get more comfortable interacting with you as the instructor.
Depending on the course delivery plan for your course, you may want to consider setting up a Collaborate Q&A session before the semester starts. This is particularly useful if you intend to use Collaborate throughout the semester, because you can use the session to help address potential connection and/or audio issues that students may have and help them learn to navigate Collaborate in a low-stress environment. You can also answer any questions about the course and help dispel fears or misconceptions.
Another idea is to come up with an incentive for students to sign on and visit you during virtual office hours. Maybe you want to offer extra credit points in exchange for them logging in and telling you or asking your something specific. It helps if you can give them a purpose to login besides just earning extra points.
Lastly, you might consider developing a journal post assignment that asks students to tell you why they are taking the course and what they hope to get out of it, or some other similar journal prompt. An assessment like this gives you a great opportunity to provide individualized feedback and build rapport with students. Journal assignments are private (only the instructor sees them) so it can also be a more comfortable space for students to ease into online conversations.
One of the best practices in online course design is building community among your students. The best way to get that started is to ask students to post a self-introduction.
Students can introduce themselves on the discussion board, and they even have the option to post photos. If you’re not a fan of the discussion board, you can use an app called Flipgrid to allow students to easily post short video introductions. You can also use Flipgrid for other student videos throughout the semester — it’s a fun app.
If your class includes a lot of online synchronous sessions, you might want to plan some introductory activities to try in Collaborate. These ideas may work best in breakout groups:
- One-word chat box: Type one word that describes how you’re doing right now.
- Scavenger hunt: Who has a photo of XXXXXX on their phone photo roll?
- Show and tell: Grab an object that represents a piece of who you are. Share it with your group.
Hopefully this gave you a couple of tips and ideas to try out. If you have your own ideas or other methods that have worked for you, I would love to hear about them.