Why would you use a welcome note?
A digital welcome note can be used as a brief introduction to your course and yourself as an instructor. One way to develop community in online and blended courses is through teaching presence, which can be established through open communication.
Communication Expectations: The students in your class have varying levels of comfort with communication, particularly when it comes to initiating contact with their instructors and teaching assistants who are perceived as authority figures. It is important that you take this into account and consider the ways that you can reduce these barriers to effective communication.
What could you include in a welcome note?
A welcome note is a great way to orient students to your course beyond what has been included in the course outline. This is an opportunity to collect important information about your course and share it with students so that they know what to expect.
Your research and teaching interests, and what you are excited about in the course.
Providing a brief overview of the course and learning objectives, written in plain language and clearly connected to the learning activities that you are using.
Explaining what students can expect on the first day of class so that they can prepare in advance.
Telling students how you all will be using the D2L course shell. Some examples include:
- Course announcements
- Organizing and accessing content and course materials
- Scheduling synchronous Zoom sessions
- Participating in weekly discussions and group work
- Submitting assignments
- Describing the learning activities that students will be participating in during the course and the technology requirements for remote, online, and blended learning. It is helpful to state how many hours per week should students expect to spend on these activities. That will help your students manage their time to meet the expectations of this course and others. Here are some examples of common learning activities at the University of Calgary and information you might want to include:
- Required technology for the course
- Reliable internet connection
- Software or other course-specific requirements
- Lectures (how many hours per week)
- Asynchronous or synchronous? In person or online?
- How long are these lectures?
- Where can students find the meeting details?
- Attendance expectations
- Asynchronous activities (how many hours per week)
- Where are instructions and/or details of these activities located?
- Watching videos, pre-recorded lectures, and other visual learning materials
- Discussion boards
- "Field-trips" or other self-directed learning activities
- Labs (how many hours per week?)
- How many labs are students expected to attend?
- Where will students do these labs (online or in person)?
- When are the labs scheduled?
- What do students need to bring to labs?
- Group work (how many hours per week?)
- How are groups assigned?
- Where will these groups work?
- What are these groups working on?
- Where can students find the group materials?
- Assessments (number of assessments)
- What type of assessments are you using?
- What are the values of these assessments?
- When are they scheduled?
- Are these group or individual assessments?
- What grading schemes or rubrics will you be using to assess them?
- Study groups
- Do you have spaces for students to engage in informal peer-study?
- Required technology for the course
Share what students can expect from you. This is an opportunity to be transparent about your approach to teaching, engaging with students, and your commitment to them.
- How do you want to be communicated with?
- Where should students contact you?
- How often do you check and respond to course-related emails?
- Course Announcements
- Where will you post course updates?
- Do you send out weekly emails?
- Are you less present in written communications?
- Do you stay after class or offer office hours?
- How do you give feedback?
- When can students expect to get assignments returned?
- What type of feedback do you give?
- Is there a process for giving some students different feedback than others?
- Flexibility and Accommodation
- Are you flexible with deadlines and extensions?
- Are there departmental or faculty-level restrictions about this?
- Explain that to your students so that they know how to deal with unexpected challenges.
- Review the current institutional guidelines for timed online assessments for institutional guidelines.
Sharing your expectations for student behaviors, engagement, and quality of work throughout the course. Clear expectations are place where you can share with students how you plan to support them. Consider:
- Issuing a strong statement about zero tolerance for abusive and harmful language and behavior.
- Are you teaching controversial issues? What guidelines do you have for those conversations?
- What characteristics do you expect students to demonstrate (i.e., professionalism, punctuality, respectfulness, etc.)?
- Establishing Community Guidelines in the first class that everyone returns to periodically to ensure that they are relevant or need to be updated.
With a reminder about the date/time of the first class, where students can find the link to the session or other access point, how to prepare for the first session, and other helpful information.