Getting off to a Great Start for the New Semester

August 17th is the start of the Fall 2015 semester. Here are a couple of tips to get you (and our students) off to a great start. If you have questions about any of these tips, please contact me. Also, please share your own tips as a comment to this post.

Click + next to the categories below to expand them and x to collapse them.

Course Start Date and Time

A lot of faculty have asked when exactly do students see their D2L courses. By default, courses are set to become available at 12 am on 8/17/2015. However, you have the ability to change that. To do so, log into D2L and open your course. Go to Edit Course and then click on Course Offering Information. If you scroll about halfway through the page, you’ll see the editable course start date, as shown in Figure 1.

Fig. 1: Course Start

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Hiding Course Components Vs. Postponing the Start Date of the Course

Let’s say you are working on the lecture for Week 1. You do not want students to see that week until you are done with your edits. What to do: make the course start later or hide week 1?

Fig. 2: Hide and Show Content in D2L

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I actually recommend hiding week 1 (in D2L talk, you’d switch that week to Draft mode, as opposed to Published), and leaving the Start Here module visible. Thus, when students log into the course at the beginning of the semester, they can go through your course orientation and syllabus. Why not, they could also be going through a syllabus understanding quiz.

Welcoming the Students

A nice and simple welcome to the course might be to post an announcement (in D2L talk, that is the News function) such as this — feel free to copy/paste and then personalize the text in green:

Dear {firstname},

I’d like wish you a warm welcome to the add your course name here course!

To get started with the course, please visit the Start Here module.

Warm regards,

Add your name here

The {firstname} code will actually pull in the name of the person viewing the announcement. To test, create this news and save it in draft mode (or go ahead and publish it). When you preview it, you’ll see your name appear instead of the code, just as students will see their name appear.

Faculty Resources Module

It is a good idea to create a Faculty Resources module and restrict its access to only instructors in the course. To set this restriction, enter this module, click Add Dates and Restrictions…, click Create, set the condition type of Role in Current Org Unit, choose Instructor for the role, click Create (see Figure 3 for what your screen would look like at this time), and finally click Update.

Fig. 3: Release Rule Set for the Faculty Resources

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This module serves as your repository of course materials and information you want kept with the course from semester to semester. What I usually keep in this module are :

  • the course development plan (my at-a-glance view of the course content and assessments mapped to each module’s learning outcomes)
  • a “What you should know about this course” file (containing information reminding me a semester from now of the finer nuances of the course, such as what needs to be updated from semester to semester)
  • a set of all the course materials in their raw, editable format (i.e., DOC, PPT, etc.), for easy future modifications.

Start Here Module

Whether you call it Getting Started or Start Here, in my opinion, this module is a must. According to best practices in education (especially in eLearning), a quality course needs to have a careful introduction to the course, telling students how to get started and how to find course components. This section is the most appropriate spot to place your syllabus (the component around which approx. 30% of the Quality Matters criteria revolves) and anything syllabus related (i.e., course schedule, syllabus quiz, etc.). This is also the best place to house your and the student’s self intros.

In Figure 4, you can see how the sample course was designed to have a Course Orientation submodule as well as a Syllabus, Calendar, and Professional Evaluation submodule nested under the Start Here module.

Fig. 4: “Start Here” Module

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Self Introduction Discussions

Just as you would introduce yourself in the face-to-face classroom, you want to introduce yourself to the students in the online classroom. Try to go beyond the standards name, title, and contact information, and tell students a bit about you as a person as well as what makes you passionate about teaching this particular subject.

Likewise, ask students to introduce themselves. They’ll spend 15 weeks or so with the class, so knowing a bit about everyone is nice and can also be the premise upon which students form into study groups later on.

Here is some verbiage I like to use in these self introduction discussions — feel free to copy/paste and edit.

Please introduce yourself to the class and then feel free to comment on your peers’ introductions. Once you introduce yourself, you’ll be able to see and respond to everyone else’s posts.

Your self-introduction could include but is not limited to:

  • some background information of your choice (e.g., how you prefer to be called, your hometown, previous education, family, hobbies, etc.)
  • what brought you to Georgia Regents University and this particular field of study
  • what you hope to learn through this course.

As you build this discussion topic (which, by the way, needs to be nested within a discussion forum you can simply call Discussions), consider if you want to check the “Users must start a thread before they can read and reply to other threads” checkbox or not. My verbiage includes a sentence (in green) you can keep if you check the box.


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2 thoughts on “Getting off to a Great Start for the New Semester

  1. Love the links here. Got a bunch of ideas just glancing through. I would personally take out the references to “distance education” though, since I think these apply to all education. Even our students who come to class see D2L as an important component of their learning experience, and I think that all faculty should consider how the students view it.

    I’m afraid that just posting the syllabus on D2L, or adding class powerpoints, is missing a huge opportunity.

    1. Thank you so much for your feedback dear Dr. Mitchell. As you suggested, I edited the sentence that referred to distance education and broadened the scope to education in general. When writing the article, I had eLearning in mind specifically.

      When courses are fully online, everything in the course needs to be built into D2L (beginning with the initial experience of entering the class and understanding what the first steps are). Otherwise, an eLearning students comes in the class, finds a document devoid of instructions, and is confused as to what s/he is supposed to do next. It’s the equivalent of a faculty member coming to a traditional face-to-face class, putting the syllabus on the desk, and leaving the room without a word.

      In a fully online course, just providing a syllabus, powerpoints, and quizzes is indeed, missing a huge opportunity, as you so cleverly stated. Somewhere in the middle is hybrid education, which mixes face-to-face and online modalities, and where the online portion of the course needs to explain clearly what happens in each modality.

      At the end of the spectrum are web-enhanced courses, that are taught 100% face to face but make use of the online learning management system to post documents for easy retrieval and as an alternative to the costly printing of documents. Come to think of it, I need to add glossary terms for “eLearning”, “hybrid”, and “web-enhanced”! I’ll put that on my to-do list.

      I recently gave a talk on eLearning student engagement in the context of the national distance learning week; you might enjoy that presentation.

      Once again, thank you for your thoughtful feedback! We are all part of a learning community and I find tremendous value is sharing and discussing thoughts and thus learning with/from you.

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