The first “day” online is similar to the first day of class in a face-to-face course. However, I may only have a few minutes to engage my online students. After a few minutes, my students will have already formed an impression of my course and may have decided to drop. It’s critical that I create a welcoming and clear environment that begins to build a community of learning.   

Step-by-Step Implementation

1. Creating a Home landing page for my course.  

    • When students click on my course, I want them to feel welcomed to the course and excited about what we’ll be studying. Using Canvas Pages to create a welcoming page is as easy as creating a Word document.  
    • The content for this page includes:  
      •  A welcome statement introducing myself and why I’m excited to teach this  course, such as “Welcome to XXX. I’m Dr. Robin Morgan and I’ll be your instructor for this course. I’m excited to begin our discussion of Sleep and Dreams. Most of us have had weird dreams or had difficulty sleeping at one time or another.  Together, we’ll be exploring these topics and many others relating to Sleep and Dreams.”  
      • It’s not necessary to include a picture of yourself but it’s more welcoming if you do so. The best pictures are more casual than the professional headshot commonly used in academic settings.  
      • Provide a brief description of what you’ll be covering in this course. If well written, I’ll insert the description of the course from the course catalog. If the course catalog description isn’t so well written, I still include it but I also summarize it using more learner-centered language.  
      • Explain how the course will be structured and provide students a clear description of how to get started in the course.  

2. Creating a diagnostic assessment  

    • In all of my courses (face-to-face and online), I begin by discovering what my students already know.  A simple pre-test, composed of 5-10 True/False and Multiple Choice questions based on course learning outcomes, is built in Canvas Quizzes.  For my students, the pre-test is not required but is associated with 5 points extra credit. Typically, 100% of students complete the quiz.  
    • The questions on my pre-test quiz are built into later quizzes or exams, providing me a post-test. I look at the difference between pre-test and post-test scores to gauge how much students have learned in my courses – a direct assessment of student learning.  

3. Creating an Introductory Discussion  

    • My introductory discussions begin with a Kaltura video in which I introduce myself and provide some information or a question that is not available elsewhere. If I’m asking students to take part in an introductory discussion, I think it’s only fair that I participate as well.  
      •  I always include a question or some information in my introductory video that allows me to gauge whether students have watched it.  
      •  I use Kaltura videos since they are relatively easy to make fully accessible.  
    • As part of my introductory discussion, I ask students to watch a video or read an article relating to course content. In my Sleep and Dreams course, I ask students to watch a brief video listing 10 Facts about sleep and dreams. They are then asked to share which fact was most surprising to them.  
      • In some courses, I focus on misconceptions. In other courses, I focus on controversial topics. In all cases, my goal is to get students thinking about the course topics immediately.  
      •  I also ask students to share their name, their discipline, and if they have ever taken an online course.  
      •  I make a point to also include a warning for students to share only information they are comfortable being discussed. As I teach psychology, I occasionally have students share information that is extremely personal; it’s my practice to warn students against this since I cannot guarantee confidentiality.  
    • Students are asked to create a video using the Canvas video creation tool. Since most computers have cameras, this is an easy tool for students to use, requiring only Canvas.   
      •  Students must post their videos before they can view the videos or comments of their classmates.   
      •  Once students have posted their video, they communicate with one another by writing. 


Probably the best student response is that, depending on the course, 95 – 100% of my students watch my introductory video and complete the introductory discussion. Students report that they believe they can talk to me, stop by my office, or contact me even after the course is complete. These types of responses suggest that my efforts to build a welcoming community are working.