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Aug 1 / Geralyn Stephens

Welcoming Students to your Online Course

Each Fall, I look forward to returning to the university with excitement. The level of anticipation ranks right up there with Christmas mornings, when I was a child. Why?

For the past 12 years, I have taught online courses, exclusively. During the summer, I research instructional strategies and techniques that I might employ to further engage students and increase their level of involvement with the content, their peers and with me. My goals are for these learning activities to transcend the technology and for the levels of students’ comprehension and application to increase. While these are great goals, they pale in comparison to my bottom line: I want students enrolled in my online courses to believe their investments of time and financial resources were well spent.

Getting off to a good start is critical to building a foundation. I have found the following four (4) strategies most beneficial to building these cornerstones of an online course:

1)   Welcome Letter – This can be a simple email message sent to all students enrolled in the course. The message should contain the following:

  • A statement to thank students for selecting the online course option
  • A paragraph about when the course will begin and how to access course information. You might also include an LMS tutorial that might be beneficial for students to complete prior to beginning the course, if you are not including this as an instructional component.

2)   Course Agreement – This is the agreement related to course expectations and conduct. It may contain hardware and/or software requirements. It should contain contact information for the student, as well. I create a Blackboard Quiz for students to acknowledge and accept responsibilities outlined in the agreement. There is also a fill-in-the-blanks item for their cell phone contact numbers.

3)   Video: Course Overview -The video highlights various aspects of the course and provide students with general information about how the course functions. There should be a reassuring tone in its presentation. It should also contain something about you as the instructor. Students want to know that you are human, too! So, sharing something about your professional background, as well as, something personal, i.e., hobby, interest, pets, humanizes you right from the beginning!

4)   Help! I have a Problem! – Students need reassurance that they will not be left alone when problems arise with the LMS or something related to the course. A module dedicated to detailing how to handle these situations when they begin the courses reduces anxiety for students and you!

Please check back for more about each of these over then next several weeks. If you have a related question, please post.


  1. Geralyn Stephens / Aug 6 2014

    Yes, LMS = Learning Management System. At WSU, our LMS is Blackboard 9.1.

  2. Joan Beaudoin / Aug 6 2014

    Excellent advice for getting your online course off on the right track. Question for you – LMS = Learning Management System?

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