VIU Campus

Starting the Semester Off Right

Whether you are teaching in a face to face, online or blended delivery mode, there are some things you can do to get you and your students ready for the semester ahead. 

This page outlines a simple formula you can use to get started whether it is the first day of a synchronous class or the introduction to an asynchronous course. 

Start Community Building

The more students feel connected to their instructor, each other and to the institution,  the more likely they will come to class and have peers they can work with during class. It is never too early to start building community in your course. Here are some suggested strategies.

Instructor Introduction

Introducing yourself to your students can help set the tone for the course. When you are developing your introduction, think about the type of learning community you want to build. What do you want your students to know about you? Your Academic journey? Your personal journey? A bit of both?

While you can obviously introduce yourself on the first day of a face to face or synchronous online class, there are other ways you may choose to provide an introduction regardless of your course delivery method. 

  • A written introduction posted in VIULearn. If you are teaching in a 100% asynchronous course, it is a good idea to include a picture of yourself as well.

  • Use VIUTube to create a video introduction of yourself and post it to VIULearn. 

  • Get creative! Is there something that represents who you are as an instructor, professional and/or human? It could be an image, a quote, a short video, etc...Post it to VIULearn or show it on the first day of class and talk about what it means to you.

Student Introductions

Student introductions are also essential to building community at the beginning of a course. It helps instructors learn more about their students and it provides students with the opportunity to learn about each other and to feel more comfortable working and collaborating together. Use low-risk activities that do not require much planning and will immediately engage students.

  • Have students work in groups to solve a simple problem related to course content and/or the course syllabus. If you are not in a physical classroom you could do this in Zoom breakout rooms or using the Groups tool in VIULearn.

  • There are lots of icebreaker activities out there. Find one and use it as is, or adapt it to be relevant to your discipline.

  • Student Survey Card. This can help you get to know more about your students. Provide them with a physical or virtual survey that includes questions that you feel are important to their learning. 

Regardless of the activity, think about how you can make it resemble what you will be doing throughout the semester. For example, if you will be using breakout rooms in Zoom this is a good opportunity to get you and your students used to interacting this way. Similarly, if you have pre-assigned work groups for the term then this is a chance to get them working together right away.

Engage Students with Course Concepts

We often use our first interactions with students to get to know each other and review the course outline and we reserve “getting into the content” for subsequent interactions. However, there is no reason why you can’t get students engaged in the content right away. This can be a hook that helps them feel excited and invested in the content. Think about how you can do one fun, engaging, thought-provoking, low stakes, high-impact activity that introduces the content in a meaningful way. 

  • Latin America Art: Ask students to list as many European and US artists that they can, and then the Latin American ones.

  • Cultural Geography: Give students a map of BC or Vancouver Island and a list of Indigenous language groups and have them plot them on the map.

  • Math: Ask students to list all the prime numbers under 100

Co-Creating Course Expectations

What are the expectations that you have for your students? How do you communicate those? Are any of them negotiable? Working with students to co-create the course expectations can encourage student buy-in and help you deal with situations in which those expectations are not being met.

Think about the expectations that are non-negotiable and those that are and work with your class to co-create a set of expectations for the course. Topics you may want to address include communication, attendance, due dates, Zoom etiquette, class preparation, group work and lab safety.

There are a number of collaborative tools you could use to have students generate and vote on ideas. 

  • Zoom Polls

  • Discussions in VIULearn

  • Online/Live Collaboration tools: Padlet, Jambaords, Google Docs

Explain How This Course Works

Each course a student takes will be different. Assignments, expectations, VIULearn layout, accessing learning materials and how to contact the instructor are just a few things that they will need to learn for each of their classes.

Making it very clear to your students how your course works will help them spend more time on learning and less time in figuring out how to navigate the course. It will also help you figure out where potential barriers and confusion lay, so that you can spend time on questions related to content rather than questions related to the administration of the class.

You can do this as a live demonstration in class and/or you can record it using VIUTube and post it in your VIULearn course for students to access as many times as they need to.

  • Tour of the VIULearn Course

  • Brief review of  the course outline

  • Location of Assignment Instructions + Submission Details

  • Due Dates

  • Any special instructions related to learning materials

  • Instructor contact information and expectations

You can also create a low stakes quiz on this content to help students learn to navigate the course and find the information they need.