Imagine you are taking an online course for the very first time. You get logged in and you enter the course, now what do you do?
When you logged into this course for the very first time, what was the first thing you saw? How did you know what to do next?
The Welcome Note is the very first thing a student sees when he or she accesses the course. It is posted in the News tool, and contains the basic instructions as to how to find the materials they need to proceed. Remember– overcommunicate and don’t assume students know how to use the tools.
The idea of a Welcome Note, which students should see when they first enter a course, is found in many of the most popular rubrics used to evaluate the quality of online courses (e.g., Quality Matters, Penn State e-Learning Design Standards). Even those rubrics that don’t specifically mention a welcome note emphasize the need for orientation materials, including information about how students should get started in the course and who they can contact for different types of assistance.
Simply put, a welcome note sets the tone for your course and provides the information students need to get off to a good start. It’s also one of your first opportunities to interact with your students and build community in your course.
Listed below you’ll see what we’ve found (based on online course design rubrics and our experiences with online instructors and students) to be some of the most important characteristics of an effective welcome message.
Welcome messages should:
- Contain around 250-350 words (this is not a hard and fast rule, but carefully consider what you include if you have much more than this)
- Avoid repeating your Instructor Bio in your Welcome Note. Briefly introduce yourself, and direct students to your full Instructor Bio
- Be formatted for online readability. This includes breaking up the text as appropriate with headings, paragraphs, bulleted lists. This is especially important for longer Welcome Notes, and certainly anything longer than 350 words.
- Explain how students should address you
- Mention options for how students can contact you
- Explain the overall design / structure of the course
- Explain where to find different course components, such as the syllabus and course calendar
- Tell students exactly how to get started (e.g., read the syllabus, post to the Introductions discussion)
- Emphasize how information will be shared (e.g., Announcements)
- Explain how to ask questions (e.g., Ask the Class discussion)
- Direct students to resources such as technical support
- Explain any requirements students will need to abide by, such as a Code of Conduct or Academic Honesty Agreement
- Be posted/scheduled for the day the course opens to students (preview week)
If you feel your Welcome Note needs to be significantly longer than the recommendation above, consider the following:
- Your audience may include English language learners and/or students are visually impaired and using adaptive technologies that “read” the text to them.
- Consider making a video (ideally less than 5 minutes long) accompanied by a short text paragraph with the essential getting started information.