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Sept 3 2015

3 Sep 2015

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Roll Out the Welcome Mat in Your Online Course – Part 2

Hopefully you are recovering from the start-of-semester rush, and starting to settle in to a nice rhythm with all of your classes. The craziness that seems to exist the first couple of weeks is not just tough on you, but students struggle as well. They are scrambling to get all the classes they need while at the same time getting introduced to the policies and procedures of the classes they are enrolled in. If they’re new to Porterville College, they are also learning about all of the idiosyncrasies of our college.

So I’d like to pick up where I left off in the previous article, Part 1, where I talked about the importance of setting a welcoming tone for the class through initial communication with students. Once those first impressions are taken care of, the next hurdles come immediately. Students stressed by all that is happening in the first few weeks have their finger on the drop button. It’s much easier, psychologically, for a student to drop a class in which they have not met their instructor in person. That is one of the many reasons for higher drop rates in online classes. Although you may not be able to change that factor, there are other things you can do to retain students and help them to be successful in your class. Let’s consider one of them.

invisible manBe Visible

Imagine walking into a classroom as a student and not seeing the instructor or any students anywhere in the room. Maybe you’re early, but after waiting for what seems like an eternity, you are still alone except for a stack of handouts on the lectern. Being the studious scholar that you are, you read the handouts. Then you have some questions. But since there is no one to ask, you walk away without answers. “Hmm, maybe this class isn’t for you,” you begin thinking.

Sadly, many online students find themselves in this very same situation. Fortunately many others do not, because their instructors make themselves visible in their online class, and especially so during the first few weeks when there tend to be more questions. But what is meant by visibility in a fully online class? Obviously you’re not in the same room as your students, but visibility in the online class can be achieved in other ways.

First off, include two or more different ways that students can contact you with their questions, and have that information prominently posted, perhaps in several locations. For example, give them your email address of course, but also consider sharing a phone number. Put them in your syllabus but you might also want to put it at the top of your class home page.

Another helpful resource for students is to include a “Class Questions” forum that you check daily. In fact, in the first couple of weeks you may want to check it several times a day. It is important to enthusiastically advertise your “Class Questions” forum, and make it clear this is the best place to post their class questions. A forum like this is not only helpful to students, but it helps you with the workload. Imagine ten students with the same question, each asking that question in a private email or phone conversation. Now, instead you have just one or two who post the question in your forum, and you answer it there for all of the students to be able to read. You can even encourage students to answer each other’s questions, perhaps offering bonus points for giving correct advice to classmates in this way.

Finally, I’ll make one other suggestion. Consider offering a live orientation to your class via teleconference using CCCConfer. You can announce this to your students in your initial email to them. Not all of the students will be able to attend live, but you can record the session for those who miss it. This live interaction is a great opportunity to make a personal connection with your students, to give them a tour of your class Website, and to offer a platform for them to ask questions and get immediate responses. These are just a few suggestions. There are many other ways that you can make yourself more noticeable and available to your online students. Talk to your colleagues and ask them what they do, and be creative.

Now with your welcome mat in place and your presence in the class-site well established, your students will not only feel welcomed, but they will be confident that you’ll be there to help them on their learning journey. They will, hopefully, take their finger off of the drop-button and relax just a little. Now with their fears in check, they are in a much better position to be successful in your class.


Crews, T., K. Wilkinson, and J. Neill. “Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education: Effective Online.” MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 11 (2015): 87-103. Accessed August 27, 2015. http://jolt.merlot.org/vol11no1/Crews_0315.pdf.

Kelly, Rob. "Five Pedagogical Practices to Improve Your Online Course." Faculty Focus, March 25, 2014, accessed August 27, 2015. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/five-pedagogical-practices-improve-online-course/.

Kelly, Rob. "Five Things Online Students Want from Faculty." Faculty Focus, May 30, 2014, accessed August 27, 2015. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/online-students-want-from-faculty/.

Scollins-Mantha, Brandi. “Cultivating Social Presence in the Online Learning Classroom: A Literature Review with Recommendations for Practice.” International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, March 2008, accessed September 1, 2015. http://itdl.org/Journal/Mar_08/article02.htm.

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