5 Faculty Best Practices Before the First Day of Online Class

Last updated on: January 18, 2022

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The global pandemic moved everyone who was teaching on-ground to an online learning environment. Whether this was your first entrée into distance education or you have been doing it for an extended period of time, a few key activities completed before students enter the course can make a world of difference in conveying a welcoming and well organized learning environment. By preparing your students for what is to come, you can help alleviate fears and anxieties, as well as limit the number of questions and emails you receive.

Here are five simple actions you can take before the first day of class to help prepare yourself to teach online and to make your students feel more comfortable about the course.

Create a Welcome Video

Connecting with distance students can improve student retention and academic performance. A video, in addition to a written welcome statement, allows students to connect your face, voice, photo, and instruction, while beginning to forge a community of learners.

Populate the Course Calendar

The calendar provides students with a quick snapshot of due dates for graded and non-graded activities and assignments. Consider including other types of calendar entries such as holidays, the first and last day class, and relevant and timely events occurring on campus. Including campus events may help the distance student understand and connect better to campus culture. Tip: don’t forget to use the repeat function within the LMS for events occurring weekly.

Describe How You Manage Course Activities and Grading

Providing clear and explicit expectations in course announcements, along with a detailed course syllabus, alleviates anxiety and increases accountability. Consider individual announcements with a clear title that students can easily access a second time rather than a single long announcement that addresses numerous points. Be explicit about the following.

  1. Your expectations for discussions, activities, and participation.
  2. Your teaching philosophy.
  3. Forms of communication.
  4. How you engage and grade discussion forums.
  5. Timelines for answering questions and returning graded work.

Set Office Hours

Most colleges and universities require office hours. Faculty availability and support is critical particularly for struggling students. Host video meetings (Zoom, FaceTime, or MS Teams) as a preferred means of meeting versus the telephone. If possible, set aside a consistent weekly block of time devoted to meeting with students.

Ask Students to Introduce Themselves

Introductions help to replicate on-campus learning experience in distance education courses. Be explicit about what you want them to include in their introduction, if relevant to the course or program of study. Encourage students to be creative and use word clouds, photo montages, or video introductions. Doing this in place of written introductions adds interest and builds stronger connections between students and faculty members. If class size permits, respond to each student with a personal welcome.

What often times seems obvious to a faculty member is often not to students! The more explicit and organized you are, the more students will engage in the course content, thus, promoting learning. For more tips on how to effectively teach online and continue building student engagement in your online course, visit our Resources and Services pages.

Authored by Alison Ridge

Associate Professor and MSN Program Director at Benedictine University & Wiley Fellow (2014-16)

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