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 as a means to network with their classmates and often refer back to those posts after they’ve begun to work with each other. The introduction discussions tend to have the most widely read discussion posts; 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 and tend to read most of the posts.
Often, instructors 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’s post, 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 a student introduced herself before the first day of class, you wouldn’t ignore her; you would welcome her to the course and talk with her 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.