The Communicate 4.3.1 quest asks participants to reflect on the importance of the synchronous session in building a community in an online class. At the close of last semester, I came up with a hypothesis about low attendance during synchronous sessions:
Many students attend or watch the Welcome Session but never return to the weekly help sessions. The lecture-based tutorial for the welcome session gives the impression that sessions will not be interactive, so students don’t attend no matter how much I tell them I use games or discussions.
I asked GaVS teachers in Edmodo for some help with making the welcome session more interactive. Several teachers gave some excellent ideas:
- Put a ‘Get to know you’ bingo board on the white board and give all students writing privileges. Depending on the number of students, they can only write their name twice (once? four times?) Recognize group that gets the first BINGO (don’t tell them that’s the goad). Or put two boards up and divide your attendees into groups.
- Make a course scavenger hunt:
- When is the first quiz?
- How many pages in the 3rd content?
- 8th discussion question?
- How many vocabulary terms in content 2 plus content 4?
- First item on the rubric for ***?
- Divide into groups and let them collaborate a little.
- Create a Padlet board and have students submit tweets (or use twitter) for a hashtag that you select.(#whatIlikeaboutScience). They can vote on most creative/ funny/ esoteric/
- This is not a game, but an awesome way to get to know your students: Ask students to text (to you) their responses to these three prompts.
- Complete the following statements:
- One thing that I wish my teachers knew about me is…..
- Just once, I wish my teacher would ….
- If I could learn about anything I wanted in this (Literature, Physics, etc) course, it would be….
- I give them control of the mic and make them talk to introduce themselves. I let them know that I like to ask them questions and have them respond.
I loved all of these ideas, and plan to incorporate aspects of all throughout the first weeks of my courses. While each are slightly different in form and medium, the last idea gets to the heart of what I wanted to convey to students: I like to ask questions, and I value what you have to say.
In addition, I wanted the welcome session to be better organized, so those watching the recording could use it to answer questions.
Keep reading for how I actually made the welcome session fun and interactive.
Valuing Feedback and Making it Interactive
After too many instances of having students come to sessions without mics, I began with introductions with mics. The process took five to seven minutes for my three students to figure out the audio set up, but I think it was worth it. They now know I will wait for them to get ready, that they’re worth waiting for, and that I’m here to help with any technology problems.
Then, after the Brightspace tour, I used the poll function in Adobe Connect to give a quick four-question quiz on some points I wanted to reinforce. The questions were easy, but the point was to show students how I can use Connect to get their feedback and assess how well they’re paying attention.
I didn’t want to catch them off guard, so I listed my objectives for the tour and let them know I would quiz them.
Restructuring the Welcome Session
In the past the session begins with policies and ends with the tour of the LMS. Now, if we think metaphorically, the LMS is the digital classroom, but rarely during registration at cinderblock schools does a student and family encounter the rulebook before seeing the classroom. So, to mirror students’ experiences at physical schools, I started with the tour; I let them see what the classroom looked like.
Then I addressed the topics in order of importance: communication before assignments. After all, they need to know I earn my keep as their online instructor. I don’t merely grade their work. A computer will not replace me.
I’m always harping on about how important communication is in an online course, so I figured that should be the second point I stressed during the welcome session. How do I communicate with students and when? What are my expectations for their communication? When should they expect emails and updates? All these I addressed with clear examples.
Schedule and Policies
Most of the schedule and policy topics I left unchanged. I did ask students what their first assignment was (a chance for interaction), but mostly I included many, many screenshots to give them an idea of what to expect in the course. What does feedback look like? Where do you find it? Really, I took this time to stave off common problems, like plagiarism. Students supposedly know they shouldn’t plagiarize, but one or two do no matter what. So, I included a screenshot of what I see when a student does plagiarize, and I let them know exactly how much information I receive: percent of unoriginal work, sources, and specific copied words: the gauntlet.
Finally, I gave them a chance to breathe before letting them know what they should do next.
In the end, this welcome session redesign took the same amount of time as my past welcome sessions, even with the added five minutes of getting microphones to work.
But, as always, I’m not yet done tinkering with this idea, and I invite any and all ideas, comments, and suggestions. So leave a comment and help continue to make these sessions fun.