Laying the Foundation for Community: Tips for the first few days of face-to-face, hybrid and synchronous online courses
Before The First Day
Even before the first day of class, you can reach out to your students via email, Blackboard or TopNet to welcome them and orient them to the course. In your pre-semester communication, share with them what they’ll need to be successful in the class and what your first day will be like. Things you might consider sharing include a list of technology and/or equipment they’ll need to participate (mics, webcam, etc), apps or software they might need to participate in polling or class activities, readings that need to be done prior to class, an agenda for the first day, etc.
You might also even consider recording and sending your typical syllabus spiel and ask students to watch it prior to coming on the first day. Then, instead of spending all your time on the syllabus, you can either jump right into discussion or ice-breaker activities. (Be sure that you create some kind of poll or quiz to assess that students watched the video and understand expectations.)
In addition to logistics, use this pre-semester communication to introduce yourself and invite students to introduce themselves as well. Create a short welcome video to share some personal information as well as a brief overview of the class. Invite students to complete an introductory survey and/or post an introduction to a message board on Blackboard. Knowing a little bit about who will be in class on the first day will help you feel more comfortable initiating discussion and creating a welcoming learning environment for the first day.
The First Day
Dedicate time to personal introductions and interactions. In addition to the welcome video or information you send prior to the semester, consider what other personal information you would like to share with your students. This could include biographical or educational information, things like what inspires or motivates you as a teacher, what is most exciting to you about this course and other information that might be important such as your dog or young child who has a tendency to Zoombomb.
If students have already posted introductions to Blackboard, bring those posts into the discussion. Ask students if they’d be willing to share interesting experiences or important questions they have and discuss those as a class. Use breakout rooms to have students introduce themselves in smaller groups and get to know their colleagues on a more personal level. In addition to building community, this is an easy way to show students how they’ll be interacting and participating throughout the semester.
The First Week
As you think about how you want your semester to look – will your students be in breakout rooms, will they be participating in polls, will they primarily use the chat for discussion, etc. – be sure that you are introducing these activities in the first day or week so that students are immediately immersed in the learning environment you would like to establish. The first days of class are essential for outlining expectations in terms of participation and productivity.
Champlain College Center for Teaching & Learning. (July 21, 2020). “Building Community on the First Day of a Flex-Hybrid Course (and Before!).” https://clt.champlain.edu/2020/07/21/building-community-on-the-first-day-of-a-flex-hybrid-course-and-before/
Cornell University Center for Teaching Innovation. The First Day of Class. https://teaching.cornell.edu/teaching-resources/designing-your-course/first-day-class
Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. “First Day of Class.” https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/first-day-of-class/