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6 Ways to Help Students Get Started This Semester

Student watching a math video lecture on a laptop while taking notes

When I ask my students how they feel about starting a new semester, I get a whole host of answers: excited, nervous, overwhelmed, enthusiastic, scared. (And I would venture to say that many of us probably feel the same way they do.) The first few weeks of a course are really all of those things, and as the course designer, it’s our job to help students orient and navigate our courses. While there are dozens of ways to help support student success this semester, here are six of our favorite ways to welcome students:

[alt-text: 6 things to help students get started this semester: 1) professor welcome message, 2) digital and print course calendars, 3) contact info reminders, 4) course tour videos, 5) new course checklists, 6) meet-greet-moments)

Professor Welcome Message. Send out a welcome message before the start of the semester to invite students to the course. Use it to introduce yourself, express your enthusiasm, give course highlights, and share your contact information. You can also add a personal touch by linking to your professional and/or course website and/or faculty introduction video.

Digital and Print Course Calendars. We can all use a helping hand when it comes to organizing our time and our work. If you have a digital calendar at your institution (either in your learning management system or email), consider using it to help students track progress check-ins and due dates. Also consider creating a printable, user-friendly calendar that students can keep with their course materials. You can also add a personal touch by using your course topics as a theme for the printable calendar.

Contact Info Reminders. Whether your students are navigating digital or physical spaces, it's always good to give plenty of reminders about where and how they can contact you. If you’re teaching in a physical classroom, consider positing a campus map that has your office/meeting location circled on it. If you’re teaching in a digital classroom, use your course headers and announcements to remind students about how they can get in touch.

Course Tour Videos. The students at your institution may all be using the same learning management system, but that does not mean that every professor structures and organizes their materials the same way. To help our students focus on the content (and not on trying to find it!), create a short course tour video (3-5 minutes) that highlights where they can find the materials they need and the tools they’ll be using in the course.

New Course Checklists. Just like we keep a to-do list when prepping a course, students also find it helpful to have checklists for the first few weeks. Checklists may include homework and coursework reminders, but they may also include information about how and where to obtain course materials, log in to course software, and access course ebooks and textbooks.

Meet-and-Greet Moments. Creating meet-and-greet moments helps to build rapport and classroom community. When thinking about what meet-and-greet moments you should design, take a few moments to think about your teaching philosophy and approach, and develop activities that reflect them. Give students multiple ways to get to know more about you and their classmates by providing public, private, named, and anonymous opportunities.

If you want even more ways to help students get started this semester, we recommend Getting Social: Anytime Icebreakers by OLT Faculty Blog, Pedagogies of Welcome by Niya Bond, I see you by Michelle Pacansky-Brock, Creating a Relentless Welcome by Peter Felten, How Universal Design for Learning Can Help You Break Up Your Lectures with Thomas J. Tobin at the Lecture Breakers Podcast, and An Online Pedagogy of Kindness with Cate Denial at Think UDL Podcast.


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