Welcoming students to the online course

An illustration of a crowd of happy people

Your role in welcoming students to your online course is not just a preliminary task but a foundational step in cultivating student engagement and community. The first login into an online course can be a bewildering experience for many students, especially those who are new to the online or Hyflex learning format. In this context, providing clear instructions and guidance becomes paramount.

Embracing a welcoming tone right from day one establishes more than just a hospitable ambiance; it creates a sense of belonging, human connection, and community among your students. It conveys your unwavering dedication to fostering a safe and inclusive learning environment, as well.

These principles are not only a best practice but are also integral elements of models such as the Community of Inquiry and the Quality Course Review, both of which also emphasize the significance of welcoming students to the course.

Instructor-student relationships are the connective tissue between students, engagement, and rigor.
Michelle Pacansky-Brock

Course welcoming strategies

Welcoming students to an online course is a pivotal step in establishing a positive and engaging learning community. Below are some ideas to help you facilitate a warm welcome to your students in your online or Hyflex course.

Welcome announcement

Post a welcome announcement no later than the first day of the course in the Canvas Announcements section. Use this opportunity to establish an inviting and inclusive ambiance right from the outset.

Welcome video

Craft a concise welcome video introducing yourself by sharing some personal details such as hobbies or interests, to help establish a more personal connection. Be sure to convey your excitement for the course and provide an overview of what students can anticipate. Consider providing the students with a short video tour of the course, too. Your welcome video adds a human touch to the online classroom.

Faculty across the UM System used their institutional Panopto account to create them. Check out the example welcome videos below.

Personalized welcome messages

Reach out to each student with a personalized welcome message or email before the course officially commences. Addressing students by name and expressing your enthusiasm about their presence in the class sets a friendly and personal tone.

Icebreaker activities

Initiate the course with engaging icebreaker activities that prompt students to introduce themselves, share their interests, or participate in a lively discussion. Consider creative options like a syllabus scavenger hunt or a Google My Maps to break the ice and foster connections.

Dedicated discussion forum

Create a designated introductions discussion forum in Canvas where students can introduce themselves, express their goals, and interact with their peers during the initial week of the course. This strategy encourages early socialization.

Email welcome package

Send a comprehensive welcome email package containing essential course information, including the syllabus, schedule, and links to vital resources. This gesture ensures that students have easy access to all the resources they need from the beginning.

Warm and inclusive language

Incorporate warm, positive, and inclusive language in all course communications. This approach cultivates an atmosphere where students feel genuinely welcomed, respected, and valued (Darby & Lang, 2019).

By implementing one or more of these course welcoming strategies, you can create a positive and inclusive online learning environment. This, in turn, can motivate students to feel comfortable right from the start of the course, thereby enhancing the sense of belonging within your instructional setup and can significantly boost student engagement and improve the overall learning experience.

Check out the following sprints to learn more about creating a sense of community through engaging course interactions.


Darby, F., & Lang, J. (2019). Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.

Garrison, D., & Akyol, Z. (2013). The Community of Inquiry Theoretical Framework. In Handbook of Distance Education, 104-119.

Fiock, H. (2020). Designing a Community of Inquiry in Online Courses. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 21(20), 134-152.

Pacansky-Brock, M., Smedshammer, M., & Vincent-Layton, K. (2020). Humanizing Online Teaching to Equitize Higher Education. Current Issues in Education, 21(2).

Our top 3 library resources

The articles below were hand-picked by our team of designers, specifically for the UM System community, to bring you the best content we could find! Check with your university library for access via subscription or interlibrary loan.

Delve into the world of online higher education as this article explores the effectiveness of instructor-created video announcements in elevating instructor presence and student engagement. Uncover the surprising findings that challenge common assumptions about enhancing the online learning experience.

Hilton, J,. (2022). Effect of video announcements on instructor presence and student engagement in the graduate online classroom. Journal of Instructional Research, 11, 15-25.

This article uncovers the profound shifts in education brought about by the pandemic, providing a unique perspective on the experiences of adult learners in an online instructional design course, emphasizing the unexpected discovery of the pivotal role of learning presence.

Moodley, K., van Wyk, M., Robberts, A., & Wolff, E. (2022). Exploring the education experience in online learning. International Journal of Education & Development Using Information & Communication Technology, 18(1), 146–163.

In the realm of online education, the initial days of a course wield significant influence, as they set the stage for student engagement and motivation; this article by Errol Craig Sull offers practical tips for educators to craft a warm yet focused welcome, establish real-world connections, and humanize the online learning experience, ultimately fostering a strong bond with students and enhancing course outcomes.

Sull, E. C. (2020). The beginning connection in an online course: Crucial! Distance Learning, 17(3), 108–111.

Created on: September 29, 2023