eCoaching Tip 16 Simple Reminders about Course Beginnings

June 9 2006 (Reviewed August 24 2019)

eCoaching Tip 16:  Simple Reminders about Course Beginnings

Any time we are preparing to teach in a new term,  it is a  good time for simple reminders about what is good to do in the first part of any course.  We’ll return to more on the use of audio and video in the coming weeks.

Here are a few areas where you may want to do a quick check to see how you are doing on a couple of key areas for student satisfaction and learning.

  1. Have you found ways to “make yourself” known to your students… just as you would in a face-to-face environment?For example, I find it helpful when writing some of these tips to envision us sitting around with a cup of coffee (latte, water, soda) and just “getting to know each other and sharing personal info, such as where we have lived.  (FYI, I (Judith) grew up in Mpls, lived in Milwaukee for six years going to college and later lived in State College, PA, Mpls-again, Orlando, and now Tallahassee FL; Rita, my fellow e-coach grew up in Chicago, and also landed by way of Arizona in Tallahassee before moving on to California.)

Almost all courses now have built-in a “Getting Acquainted” discussion post as the very first discussion in the course. This is a real opportunity to  “tell a story or two about yourself” and to encourage your students to share something more personal about themselves.  This can be done by simply asking students to complete a statement, such as, “My favorite movie, or book, or meditation or relaxation is….” Or asking students to share/ post one of their favorite pictures.  Simple statements such as these elicit a wealth of information, so that we “connect” on more levels with each other.  In a recent workshop two individuals sitting next to each other learned they both had recently adopted children!  This is a great place to test use of the audio tools  as well.  We learn a lot about each other by hearing one’s voice!

By the way, my favorite movie that I will watch no matter at which time I find it on the TV is Sleepless in Seattle.   I just really enjoy watching Tom Hanks’ no-nonsense, but loving parenting style and enjoy the many good lines and echoes back to the classic Affair to Remember. Not sure what that reveals about me or what connections that creates!

By the way, this simple reminder links to a very core learning principle — developing core concepts based on what students already have in their heads.  How do we know what they know?  And how do students even know what they know or don’t know?  We ask them to tell us in various ways.  Getting acquainted is just one way of doing this.

Many instructors also ask the students — in their introductions to answer course specific questions such as why they are taking the course, what skills or competencies they expect or hope to learn, etc.  To read more about this core learning principle, you might google “Vygotsky” and “Zone of Proximal development or look back at one of the previous ecoaching tips — Tip #6. — A url is at the end of this tip.

  1. You might want to use this statement completion technique at other points in the course as a way of“getting into their heads” for what they know about difficult or new concepts, principles or philosophies.You might ask students to select from a list of concepts, etc. and then to explain the concept and its usefulness by pretending they are explaining it to a colleague at work, to their mother or other relative at a holiday meal, or to an eight- year old?   Or to a colleague in an elevator!  This forces our heads into being clear, concise and linking information to useful applications.

Recent research confirms that we human beings recognize and use new vocabulary — often long before we have developed a useful working concept about new knowledge. Knowing the vocabulary and using it in speech is just one step in a series of intellectual operations needed for developing well-formed concepts.  Asking students to explain concepts or to apply concepts in simple scenarios is like shining a light into students’ head getting a glimpse of how well-formed the knowledge is, whether it will survive after the course and what next learning experiences that you, as an instructor, might want to include.

  1. Your virtual presence! This is a simple reminder to be sure to post a message or announcement in the course site to everyone at least three times a week. In other words, let your students know you are there and interested in how they are doing with their assignments and general progress. Postings are also a great way to link current events and issues to the course content.

Your presence and involvement also changes over the weeks of a course. In the overview of the phases of engagement in a course, you want your role to evolve from the “social negotiator” in the first two weeks of a course to more of a “structural engineer” in weeks 3 and 4, designing opportunities for students to form dyads or teams of three and having the students engage in critical thinking and sharing of ideas.  Including peer reviews of simple posts is also good to start at this time.

  1. Another tool to support getting acquainted is the chat tool and then of course,  other conferencing tools. And while I mentioned that we would wait to talk about audio and video, using audio or video to get acquainted is a great low-risk, low-demand “First Use.”

Before using the virtual classroom capabilities, it is good to practice with one-to-one meetings such as office hours and simple question and answer sessions to give everyone a chance to test out using audio and video.

  1. What about all the other components of a course? How do you evaluate your course? (If you would like an ecoach to review your course, please email me at judith followed by ) If you would like to do a quick evaluation check by yourself, a useful rubric or checklist  for higher education courses is available through a subscription at  This rubric was developed as part of the Quality Matters(QM) project funded by FIPSE (Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education).  The goal of the project is to provide tools for assessing and assuring the quality of online courses.  The rubric has eight (8) sections to address key elements of any online course.
  2. Courses Overview and Introduction
  3. Learning Objectives (competencies)
  • Assessment and Measurement
  1. Resources and Materials
  2. Learner interaction
  3. Course technology
  • Learner support
  • Accessibility


Boettcher, J. V. (2006, 2019). eCoaching Tip 6: Getting to Know Your Students.   Retrieved from

Note: These eCoaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized, expanded and updated  in the third edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips (2021) coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by