Digital tools make it easier for instructors to engage students before class begins, setting a tone for what will happen in the classroom.
Why do we care?
We care because this is a big opportunity. More than ever before, instructors are able to spark curiosity and excitement - or communicate expectations - prior to assigning any coursework or delivering a single lecture.
And we know that when excited students enter the classroom, good things happen.
Next question: how do you do this? How do you use pre-class communication to get students really excited - and comfortable - before they ever set foot in the classroom? We have a few quick ideas.
Congratulations. You are now the press relations director for your course. You’re a learning cheerleader and the number one fan of world literature (or whatever it is you’ll be teaching this semester).
This means that you control course messaging - and your enthusiasm is contagious.
If it’s important that you run a challenging classroom, message this off that bat. Pose some big questions to students and ask them to think about these items prior to your first session together.
If your priority is getting students out of their shells, start with a group welcome message and/or discussion to get everyone communicating from the very beginning.
A welcome message or similar communication will foreshadow what classtime will be like. Consider this your chance to show students what’s in store, building a rapport and getting everyone on the same page before you’ve used up any of your in-person time together.
"You control course messaging - and your enthusiasm is contagious."
Bonus idea: if your class size lends itself to sending personalized messages (a quick e-mail or instant message from your LMS), it’s not the worst idea. It’s another opportunity to introduce yourself and the course, set expectations, and perhaps ask if students have any questions prior to getting started.
As you think through what kind of welcome message you’d like to send, look for opportunities to spark curiosity in students.
Here are 10 questions you can throw out there before day one that require students to find something in the subject matter that genuinely excites or interests them. (And might just bring them to the classroom a touch more excited than they were before.)
What do you think the most interesting thing you’ll take away from this class will be?
How do you expect this class to make you better?
Why are you (honestly) taking this course?
If you were in charge of this course, what would you absolutely want to cover?
What do you know about this subject matter already? Is that interesting to you? Why or why not?
Why do you care about this subject? Or why do you not care about this subject?
What do you hope we cover in this class? Why?
What’s the best class you’ve ever taken? Why was it great? What about that experience do you think could be replicated in our classroom?
What will you bring to our class conversations? Any experiences with this subject? A totally fresh perspective? How will your perspective make this class better?
What do you hope your peers will offer this course and our conversations? How can they help you learn?
As much as pre-course communication is about student-teacher relationships, there is an opportunity to begin fostering student-student relationships.
For instructors looking to get students really comfortable, using pre-course comms to introduce classmates isn’t the worst idea. This is a great place to use a digital course discussion to get everyone to introduce themselves. It's also a chance to create teams or partners for projects you have planned for later in the course, giving students the opportunity to introduce themselves to teammates prior to classtime.
When students already have a bit of an intro to one another, it’s a little easier to walk tall on the first day of class.