Teaching & Learning

Orientations, Tech Walkthroughs and Introductions

bulletin board with sticky notes

Course previews: Information for prospective students

Students usually want to find out more about a course prior to registering for it. Course previews provide the student with information prior to the course start date and allow them to review and prepare. Preview pages are a great tool to market and explain the course to prospective students. A preview page may consist of:

  • course description
  • course objectives
  • instructor background and contact information
  • view the course syllabus
  • technical requirements for taking the course
  • preview course materials or an outline
  • identify required texts in advance
  • test browser compatibility and other functions required in the course
  • be sure any required plug-ins are installed and working

Previews are typically hosted on a departmental web server. You may want to consult your department about the availability of such resources.

Course orientations

To ensure that students are well-prepared for their online experience, an orientation should include both practical and technical components. An orientation will outline how you plan to conduct the course, including ground rules, expectations and how students will be assessed. It can explain in detail how you designed the course for student use, the technology used in the course such as navigating the LMS, required plug-ins for multimedia components and tips that will ease the student's interaction with technology.

Students need to be clearly told where to go and what to read first. Orient them to the course structure, procedures, technology and any guidelines you will be using. In your orientation provide a general course outline, guide exploration of the course website, and indicate what to do first. You might create a "Read Me First" or "Start Here" or "Getting Started" folder, linking students to start-up information, or even a "Scavenger hunt" assignment that leads students through an exploration of the different areas of the course. MSU faculty have used the following techniques to orient students:

  • video introduction to the course
  • use a technology walkthrough or quiz

You may want to release an orientation prior to the opening date of the class - or build this as an exercise into the first week of your course. Alternatively, you can jump start your students using your preview page.

Video Introduction

Following is an example of a video introduction to LIR811 by Michael Polzin.

Start Here Section

Here is an outline of a "start here" section.

Meet your instructor, contact information and access hours
Purpose of class
Course structure
Course objectives and outcomes
Learning activities
Course requirements
Technical requirements
Grading scale and procedures
Submission of exercises and assignments
Attendance policy
Books and readings, required and recommended course materials
Exercises and exams timelines

Technology requirements and walk-throughs

This may be a student's first experience with online learning. The first one or two weeks often involve a significant learning curve as students work with technical support to solve compatibility issues, download and install needed plug-ins, and learn how the particular tools for the course will be used. Building a technology walk-through and telling students where to get help will ease startup headaches for everyone.

Clearly state minimum technology requirements, minimum student skills, and, if applicable, prerequisite knowledge in the discipline for your course. Tell students if explanations will be found in documents linked to the course or in supporting material not on the course site.

Technology requirements may include information on:

  • hardware
  • software
  • plug-ins
  • bandwidth requirement

If your course requires the use of a specific software, be sure to clearly state what the appropriate skill level is:

  • use email with attachments
  • save file in specific formats (e.g. RTF, PDF, TXT)
  • use MS Excel or other spreadsheet programs to create a graph

Many instructors use orientation pages and technology walk-throughs to help students test their systems and ensure they can complete the course from the technical perspective. The first week's assignment might include completing a quiz on how to use the tools needed to complete your course. Conditions can be set to allow access to the course material. Such an approach prevents students from using technology issues as an excuse later in the course.

Well-done technology walk-throughs have been proven extremely helpful. Examples might include:

  • be sure they download, install, and can use the appropriate media player
  • set up a "Meet Me" forum and require students to post a self introduction
  • set up an introductory assignment using a drop box
  • assign them to go to chat and meet someone

Introductions

Student introductions help to create a supportive learning environment and a sense of community. Ice breakers serve many purposes, including creating an open and pleasant environment, fostering group familiarity, and encouraging involvement. Examples of online ice breakers may range from posting reasons for enrolling in the course, writing brief bios, responding to other students' posts, to discovering interests about classmates, introducing a partner, finding commonalities, and coming up with self-portraits.

Students can be asked to introduce themselves and given guidance on where and how they should do so. Instructors may ask students to answer specific questions (such as why they are taking the course, what concerns they have, what they expect to learn, etc.) or may choose to let the student decide what to include. Instructors may provide an example of an introduction and/or start the process by introducing themselves. Student introductions should not be evaluated, but may be given credit for completion.

MSU's Learning Management System (LMS) provides a profile for each student. Students can add photographs of themselves to their profiles. Instructors may wish to ask that they do this.