Planning for the first week of classes

This resource page aims to help faculty prepare for the first week of classes. 


  • All course content will be fully remote for the first week
  • Delivery must be asynchronous to support students who are in transit or completing internships or otherwise unable to participate synchronously
  • Instructors may offer synchronous options for students who need support
  • Leverages Canvas and VidGrid
  • Strongly recommended to include required activities where students earn points (with options for those who need alternatives) to keep students accountable, on track, and prepared for the rest of the semester
  • Timing of assignments and due dates during the week needs to be flexible to allow for late add students


Many of the well-grounded and established methods you use in your face-to-face classrooms translate into an online or blended learning environment. The major difference is the need to be more explicit and to be intentional about how you create and maintain the learning environment and the community. The first week of your class is setting the stage for everything else you will do in your course, regardless of your delivery mode.

Introduce the instructor(s)

Establishing your teaching presence will help students develop trust in you, the course, and build their confidence in learning. Consider the following question. How are you supporting your students through a balance of learning activities, active engagement in learning, and direct feedback and instruction? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Send a pre-course announcement before the first week of class, including such information as the following:
    • A welcome message, including an acknowledgment of the challenges that students are facing with the current situation, the efforts that will be made to manage situations as they arise, and a call to rise to the occasion
    • Your expectations for class participation, including the opportunities for remote participation if needed
    • A public URL for the course syllabus
    • Required and optional course materials that can be purchased or obtained in advance of the course start
    • Let students know how to adjust notification settings
  • Use your webcam and screen if desired to capture a welcome video message using VidGrid. You can connect the video to an assignment in Canvas using the UNL Academic Video - VidGrid quizzing LTI as an external tool on the assignment

UNL VidGrid Tutorials

UNL Academic Technologies provides an extensive list of VidGrid tutorials for faculty and students, however, if you haven't used VidGrid before for your classes, consider this excellent 5-step self-directed intro to using VidGrid in Canvas. screen capture of the 5-step graphic

Additional in video options:

Use the Canvas Message Students Who… tool to send an email to those who have not watched the video to send a reminder and personalized note to welcome them to the class

Introduce the syllabus and the course

Here are some additional ways that you can get students to engage with the syllabus and course materials:

  • Create a syllabus scavenger hunt
  • Create a syllabus quiz in Canvas
  • Create a course tour video (screen capture in VidGrid)
  • Provide a high-level review of testing plans, course assignments, and projects; due dates and expectations
  • Create a video to review course policies (academic integrity, facial coverings, services for students)
  • Make sure all assignments (with dates) are in the Canvas calendar and the syllabus
  • Orient students to any course software
  • Include a Getting Started or orientation module for students to know how to launch into the course (see a sample or create your own)

Connect students to each other

Building the social presence of the learning environment is a critical element for student success and satisfaction. Consider the following questions. How are students interacting during their learning? Do they have opportunities to tie what they are learning to their experiences as “real people” and can they share what they are learning with others? The following are some potential ideas for facilitating this component of your course.

  • Use Yellowdig or Canvas discussions to have students introduce themselves using icebreaker activities:
    • My secret superpower is...
    • Two truths and a wish polls
    • Most surprising thing about me
    • Where will you be in five years?
    • Use a Zoom background or post a picture in discussions/Yellowdig of somewhere interesting that they have been or would rather be
  • Create Canvas Groups and encourage students to use the group work areas
  • Include breakout groups in Zoom (one idea: create breakout rooms so that there are two people in each room, randomly assign students to a room for 2 minutes to meet each other then re-assign students to a new room, etc.
  • Survey students to find out preferences or goals for group work

Start students on content

The way in which you initiate students into learning opportunities in your course will establish the cognitive presence. Consider these questions. How are students constructing meaning from the content they consume? Do they have opportunities for reflection and critical discourse?

  • Conduct pre-assessments
    • Canvas survey or quiz
    • Qualtrics survey
    • Certifications or pre-lab quizzes
  • Capture students’ prior knowledge or skills
    • Start on a shared or individual Google Doc (KWL - Know, Want to Know, Learned) or mind map to document their learning in the course
    • Use a Canvas quiz
    • Assign students to record a performance video or share a portfolio of previous work
  • Spark curiosity in the course topic
    • Engage in a virtual scavenger hunt for the topic (take pictures, find articles, movie clips or TV segments, commercials, etc.)
    • Assign students to create an annotated list of articles for the topic (go find three popular articles on the course topic, write a summary and share with the class; respond to at least 2 peer annotations)
    • Assign students to interview friends and family to ask them what they know about the topic, report back with a summary
    • Assign students to put their questions on the topic into a shared Google Doc to be answered throughout the course
    • Ask students to share their predictions about what they will learn in the course
    • Post a poll or ask students questions and report back with the results
  • Start reading
    • Textbook
    • Articles
    • Lab manuals
  • Start discussing course content
    • Yellowdig
    • Canvas discussions
    • Zoom live sessions, recorded for later viewing (create as an assignment with a due date)
  • Assessments
    • Quizzes on content
    • Simple assignments


  • Experiences that do not engage students
  • Students feeling that they are isolated on an island
  • Meaningless activities that are just busywork
  • Students feeling that this is an unimportant part of the class or unnecessary for their success
  • Overloading students with too much to do


Credit for the development of the original version of this content belongs to Tawnya Means and Ann Tschetter and is available for sharing and reuse under a CC BY 4.0 license. Thank you to the CTT Instructional Design team for their input and edits. 

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