by Dr. Ellen McDonough and Dr. Kathleen Sullivan

The plan is to discuss how to create a comfortable and nurturing environment for new online learners.

Important to establish a connection between you and the student:

  • Send a welcome email that introduces you and set the course expectations both academic and technical — send this out early, before the class starts.
    • Must be very clear up front about everything!  Example, if you are going to take points off for late assignments then they need to know.  What are you assignment submission expectations (.rtf, naming scheme, etc.)?
    • Tell them everything they will need re: technology (internet connection, word processor, etc.)
    • Send them contact information in the email and set expectations for when they can contact you and how long it will take you to respond to email.  Set online office hours.
  • Conduct a short survey to learn more about the students’ learning styles and technological expertise as it pertains to the class (maybe something the college could create that can be used by all).  For example they may be able to use the tar out of Facebook but can’t format a document in Word or create a footnote.
    • Find out what they already know about what you’re teaching to help meet more students’ needs.
    • Find out their course expectations.
    • May want to find out some location information, for example time zone, in case you are accepting phone calls or are conducting chats or synchronous activities.
    • Know their internet availability, are they on dialup.
    • Know their platform (mac/win).

Implementation Best Practices

  • Always have CLEAR, CONCISE directions up front!  You need to be really organized at the onset of the course so the student knows up front.
  • What are your procedures for posting general questions?  discussion board, email, chat, etc.
  • Have an introduction so they know about you.
  • Have clear expectations for their conduct in the class or use of the class.  For example if you don’t want bullets in a discussion posting make sure the students understand that.  Maybe have  a practice discussion where they can practice and you can identify problems up front.
  • Set expectations of contact.  How best to reach you and how quickly you will respond.
  • Use Rubrics.  This sets the expectations for the assignment and the outcomes.
  • Identify writing requirements (APA vs Chicago, do you need a cover sheet, how important is the writing).
  • Prompt feedback! Felt this was very important to let them know they are on the right track before they proceed farther down the path.  This contact is very important to the student.  Also encourage them to question your feedback to avoid making mistakes and to make them more a part of the process.  Also can help them to better understand the mistake they made.
  • Keep tabs on students. If one is missing in action contact them.  If they aren’t keeping up or participating contact them to let them know their input is important.

Ice Breakers

  • Should open the lines of communication to get them a little familiar with one another.
  • They are non-content related, non-graded but required, fun, non-threatening.
  • Want to build community so the students feel part of an entity and not all alone.  This helps so that they can ask questions of one another.
  • Post netiquette.  Not all students understand the rules of the web and digital communication.
  • Can use email, discussion board, chat,
  • Tips:
    • Intro Yourself – keep them short, hit the highlights
    • You favorite things – fav book, movie, place, etc.
    • If you were on a deserted island what three things would you bring?
    • Scavenger hunt – sends out a questionnaire that covers the tutorial, her intro and syllabus to make sure that they have read everything you needed them to read up front.
    • Have students at least reply to the person above and below them if in a discussion.
    • Give a classmate quiz based on the short intros.  Make it matching with student name to things like “has 3 kids and is a 6th grade teacher.” for example.

Group Activities

  • Start with small groups (pairs or threes). Online is harder than face-to-face for group work and for grading.
  • Group selection process — when making the groups be mindful of the time zones or, in education, be mindful of grade level.
  • Instructor should be a facilitator in this process.  You should monitor their chats, discussions or file sharing space to make sure they are on track.  You need to let them know this up front.  Guide them if they are off track.
  • Have the groups outline their group responsibilities at the beginning of the project.  Have the group create a communication plan so everyone in the group is on the same page.
  • Be specific about your expectation regarding group activities.  Is participation as important as content, etc.?


  • Don’t try to make this your f2f classroom.  It’s not the same.
  • Define up front if you will use any synchronous activities.
  • Give a variety of activities to meet more learning styles
  • Include choices if possible on assignments