Welcoming Your Students in Fall 2020

Before class starts, send a welcome email to your students. Starting your course by emphasizing communication and community will help you and your students have a positive experience. Begin with a welcoming and personal note, telling students you are looking forward to meeting them, even virtually, and consider that your email can set the tone for the course. Here are some things you could include:

  • What you enjoy about teaching this course, and what the students will be able to do when they have completed the course (if this can be explained briefly).
  • A link to a 2 minute video of yourself welcoming students.
  • If a playful tone works for you, you could say something like “Ok folks, strap in. We are going into uncharted territory together. There will be mistakes made, roadblocks hit, toes stubbed but we’ll get through this together.”
  • How the students can contact you (for example, by email, with a response expected within 24 hours Monday through Friday). This information would also be on the course website and on the syllabus
  • How students should address you (“Dr. Mustard” or “Hey Blake”), how your name is pronounced and your pronouns.
  • Maybe a bit about the course plan. For example, “You’ll have some readings and videos with an accompanying quiz to complete before class, then in class we’ll discuss common issues as a class, then work on some problems in small groups to build your ability to apply the concepts.”

Despite all of these ideas, consider brevity! There will be a lot of information flooding everyone’s inbox at the start of the semester. Send one of the shorter emails so it’s more likely to be read.

Consider that your students may not all have good internet connectivity or may be facing other issues. For students in online courses, perhaps send a survey that asks about internet connection, home study/work space, their anxieties for the semester, and other external factors that they think could influence their work in the class, etc.

Here is a Qualtrics template you can use to create such a survey. After you download the file, go to Qualtrics and create a new survey by clicking on “Create Your Own.” You will then get a screen where you can select “from a file” and upload this template to your library to use it.

Let students know that responding is optional, and that their answers are only for you.  You could share your own answers to the same survey questions when you share the link to the survey. Sharing your answers could help form community, showing that we are all in this together.

Also welcome your students on the first day of class, both in your online course and in your course site. Here are some things you can do:

  • Begin by building community before diving into course content. If you are using Zoom, ask students to post an answer to a question in the chat. For example, “Post one word to describe how you are feeling right now.” Or something vaguely related to the course content, like “Look around you and briefly describe where you see chemistry in your environment.”
  • Orient students to how you will be using Zoom. Show them the tools you intend to use (chat, raise hands, nonverbal feedback, breakout rooms, etc.), and let them practice. Students may not have spent the summer in Zoom meetings!
  • Walk students through the course site, showing them how to find everything they need. Hint 1: Weekly Sakai announcements are helpful to inform students about all of the course activity for the coming week. Hint 2: Recommend resources that students may need, like Duke Reach and the Academic Resource Center.
  • Explain your policy for having video on during an online meeting. Be aware that it’s not possible for some students to share their video, perhaps because of their living situation, or the speed of their internet access.
  • Remind students that they are not permitted to share any video from the class outside of the class.

There are many more ways of welcoming your students! Let us know what worked for you.

Andrea Novicki

Author: Andrea Novicki

Andrea helps faculty teach effectively and efficiently. She works primarily with scientists, using her biology background, love of science and teaching experience. Her current enthusiasms include active learning, group learning (especially team-based learning) and assessment.