10 FIRST IMPRESSIONS: PERSONALIZING THE DIVERSE ONLINE CLASSROOM
The first class is always important, whether face to face, or online, as “one never gets a second chance to make a first impression”. Engaging a diverse student population entails connecting with all learners from the very start. Having developed and taught online and hybrid/blended courses for over five years with overwhelmingly positive student outcomes and feedback, I have developed 10 First Impressions as a tool for online educators to transform an online class into an interactive and committed community of learners. These ten steps are grounded in participatory, experiential, transformative and change learning theories, and rooted in the contextual foundation of cultural pluralism and ecological systems theory. The 10 first impression are outlined below:
1. Get to know your students online (learn their names, whats in a name exercise or other ice breakers). This shows you care about them and that they not just a name on a screen.
2. Share your cultural background, travels and respect for diversity with pictures, stories, history, and encourage students to share their pictures of their travels to post in the classroom. Integrate cultural awareness into your classroom by modeling it by asking questions, being open, receptive and acknowledging the importance of cultural diversity in the classroom.
3. The tone of the classroom should be positive, upbeat, speaking clearly, at a good pace. Check in that students can hear and understand you; welcome each student as they "come in the front door" by their preferred name.
4. Explain the purpose of the class, why it's important to their learning, degree and how it relates to the real world! Clarify their expectations, your expectations and what they can expect from you-timely and responsive! Give an overview so they can feel excited and get a vision of the whole course.
5. Incorporate audio/visual introductions, such as an introductory youtube video of yourself or a Jing slide show with power point to personalize text-only communication. Send a welcome email with syllabus first day of class with your picture or attached short video.
6. Encourage students to make appointments at your virtual office hour (google live chat, telephone, or even set up a virtual office room with audio and two way visual)
7. Maximize the synchronistic live session/class with audio and video. Keep sessions to one hour with ongoing check ins (questions, polls,) and instruct students to access the session before it starts, so students are ready to go. Mix it up! Keep a steady pace, continually engaging students through discussion questions, case studies/examples, web field trips, and screen share to accommodate all learning styles-auditory, kinesthetic and visual. Be prepared and organized!
8. For blended courses use face to face time to facilitate role plays, oral presentations, small group discussions related to upcoming assignments and checking in with each student one at at time about their questions.
9. Continually evaluate student learning with polls. They are a safe and anonymous way to assess course expectations, learning and students evaluation throughout the course.
10. Last, Always thank students at the end of each session for their participation, active listening and attendance. Gratitude goes a long way to building rapport, student engagement and creating an environment respects diversity.