Welcoming Online Students

Featured instructor: Alejandro Nodarse

One of the best practices Nodarse uses to prepare his online classroom for students is a welcome video/course tour. After spending time organizing the online classroom to put his proverbial desks in order, he creates a welcome video to introduce himself and the online space to his students. His video kick-starts a great learning partnership between himself as an online teacher and his online students. (See the example video at the bottom of the page.)

To understand why Nodarse’s technique works, consider this excerpt from Small Teaching Online: Applying learning science to online classes where the author, Flower Darby, describes the first day of an online class as an in-person class. The vignette demonstrates just how important it is to welcome your students adequately on the first day of class:

Think back to when you were a brand-new college student. Imagine it’s the first day of the fall term. You are excited, nervous, maybe even a bit overwhelmed at the thought of your class schedule. You’re not sure what to expect or whether you have what it takes to succeed.

Your printed schedule lists the building number, but since you are new to this college, you don’t know which buildings are where. You consult your creased campus map, looking for landmarks, building names – anything to help you determine whether you are still going the right way. You consider asking someone for directions, but everyone around you seems sure of themselves and of where they are going. Clearly, you’re the only person on this campus who doesn’t know how to get to class.

Suddenly, your building appears as you round the next corner. Relieved, with little time to spare, you stride up to the door and give it a good, strong pull. The door doesn’t budge. Now you’re frustrated as well as stressed. Is this college preventing students from getting to class? In a last-ditch effort, you walk around the perimeter of the building looking for other ways to enter. Almost predictably, the last door you try opens. At last, you’re inside.

You find the classroom listed on the schedule, but what you see inside only adds to your mounting despair. Almost predictably, the lights are out and no one is in the room. The desks are tumbled crazily on top of each other with no rhyme or reason. It’s not clear where you’re supposed to sit or what you’re supposed to do. Now you’re getting annoyed. Having been so keyed up about the first day of class, this is more than anticlimactic. It’s defeating. Demotivating. Downright obstructive.

You muster up a renewed sense of determination, flip the light switch, and spot a pile of papers on a table in one corner of the room. Thinking maybe there are instructions or some notice of a room change, you walk over and take a small packet. It’s the class syllabus, just left there for students to find and read on their own.

Skimming through the pages, you glimpse information about the textbook, assignments, and testing dates, but not much else. You’d like to get a better sense of what this class will be like, what your instructor will be like, but there’s not much to go on. Disheartened, you trudge out the door. Is this class even happening? If so, how are you supposed to learn anything when so many barriers have been raised, when there is so little support from anyone?

...the bleak scenario we’ve presented here represents an all-too-common version of what our online students experience.

Flower DarbySmall Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes, xv-xvi

Darby, F., & Lang, J. M. (2019). Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, Jossey-Bass.