One of your first activities in your courses is also one of the most important: introductions. Students in our courses are asked to introduce themselves during the first week of the course. They are given some instructions or suggestions on the topics they should touch on, and every student should participate in this activity. This is more than just an ice breaker—introductions are the beginnings of community building for the nascent course. Students who feel as though they are a part of a community are less likely to drop out and more likely to develop personal connections. Our MBA students, especially, use the introductions to network with their classmates and often refer to those posts after they’ve begun to work with each other.
The introduction discussions tend to be the most widely read discussions; in other discussions, students may read as many as they are required to, or they may read the posts only of the people they already know or that seem interesting from the subject line. With introductions, students are motivated to get to know each other.
Instructors may think their role should be to sit this discussion out and let students get to know each other without the instructor “getting in the way.” However, we recommend you do the exact opposite: the introductions are the one discussion activity where the instructor should absolutely respond to each student, welcoming them into the course and commenting on something they noted in their introduction to make a personal connection. This crucial exercise may be time consuming, but it is vital to build your social presence in a course.
To draw an analogy, if you were teaching a face-to-face course and students introduce themselves on the first day of class, you wouldn’t ignore them; you would welcome them to the course and talk a little. Although not every aspect of online teaching is analogous to teaching a face-to-face course, introductions serve the same purpose in both cases: to help build a community of learning.
We recommend two ways to interact with students in the introduction discussion:
- Through the discussion board.
Respond within the discussion board just as the students are.
- Through SpeedGrader.
If your introduction discussion is graded, you can use SpeedGrader to respond to students. This can allow you more freedom to respond directly to the student, and it saves you from seeming like a robot repeating the same welcome over and over. Another benefit is students may be more likely to read and respond to your comment if their notifications are set to ping them when their instructor comments on their submissions. You could even ask them to respond back to your comments to confirm that they know how to read your comments on their submissions and respond.
Which should you choose depends on your goals. Replying to the discussion allows students to see you participating in the discussion and active in the course and may help build a stronger community of learning, but your comments may start to feel route. Making submission comments through SpeedGrader may allow you to be more authentic with each student, but your presence won’t be seen until you grade, and only on an individual basis, not in the community.
To dive deeper into introductions, please click to read this blog post: Three tips to make the most of student introduction activities.