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Reaching Out to Students Before the Semester

Mon Jul 27, 2020 at 07:30 AM

Giving students a way to prepare for a semester before Day 1 has always provided benefits to students, such as easing their anxiety, stoking their curiosity, and helping them determine what courses are best for them. Students may be preparing for an uncertain semester, taking an online class for the first time, and juggling many worries and responsibilities. Consider what simple ways you can provide students a preview to the course and establish instructor presence leading up to the semester.

Send an early introduction to students

This early introduction can be included in the liquid syllabus or can be a standalone message. Our previous Send an Early Introduction to Students: Teaching Tip provides ideas for what to include.

Share the syllabus ahead of time, if finalized.

Sharing the syllabus early allows students to plan ahead, get required materials in a timely manner, and make course decisions. This being said, it is best to make as few changes as possible once the syllabus has been shared. Otherwise, students may not be able to tell what changes have been made to a syllabus, which makes planning difficult. If syllabus changes have to be made, or necessary information is not yet available, make this clear in the syllabus and indicate in the syllabus what has been updated when.

Create a “liquid syllabus.”

Acknowledged as a leader in the “humanize online learning” movement, Michelle Pacansky-Brock recommends creating a simple “liquid syllabus” accessible to students before the semester begins. The liquid syllabus further develops the early introduction. She recommends using Google Sites for this liquid syllabus for its ease of use, accessibility, and visual appeal. Google Sites is available right from our OU email accounts, or any Gmail account. (Google Sites may even be a good tool to use for instruction or for students to use for presentations, projects, and portfolios.) By existing outside of Moodle, students from multiple sections of a course can be directed to one space, and this space can be used from semester to semester. (See a visual of where Google Sites is located from OU email.)

Address the uncertainty of the semester.

Either in the liquid syllabus, early message, or syllabus, explain to students how you plan to work through the uncertainty of the semester, either with contingency plans or a more general attitude or approach you will take. Even if you don’t have all of the answers and plan in place, it helps for students to know what you are thinking and how you will approach the months ahead.

We will likely want to provide students more information, plans, and certainty than we have available. We may even be waiting on answers and protocol after the semester has begun! By focusing on the best we can do with what we have and what we can control, we can begin community building and academic readiness before a very different Day 1.

References and Resources

“Humanizing Pre-Course Contact with a Liquid Syllabus,” from Michelle Pacansky-Brock. June 9, 2020.

See CETL’s Bookends: Teaching Resources for Beginning and Ending the Semester for more teaching tips like Send an Early Introduction to Students and other helpful ideas.

See more of our Teaching During COVID-19 Tips.

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

About the Author

Written by Christina Moore, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC.

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