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This content was published: November 6, 2017. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.

Pre-term email to students

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At a recent Oregon Community College Distance Learning Association meeting, former colleague Steve Smith and online instructor Jenn Kepka presented on the work they are doing at Linn Benton Community College to improve completion rates in online classes. There were a number of practices that were employed, but the one I found to be simple, elegant, and easily repeatable was a pre-term email that Jenn sends to her online students the week before classes start. She shares her email template with a CC-BY 4.0 license so you’re welcome to use and modify it so long as you give attribution to her work. I like it so much that I created a copy with PCC specific information¬† so you can try it out with your students.

PCC Pre-term class email template

Why does this work? Although it’s only one piece of the puzzle that Jenn and a few others have employed at LBCC, she’s seen a dramatic increase in completion. Some of the other practices that they have implemented are similar to what we’ve tried to accomplish with the Virtual Backpack, but at the start of the class instead of before registration. And others are similar to what we (meaning the Distance Learning Advisory Council) hope for from the What Works Well guide. But one of the reasons I chose to highlight this particular practices is because it does a few critical things.

  1. Connects the instructor and the student. You’re reaching out to introduce yourself and your course. You’re showing the student that you are looking forward to having them in your class.
  2. Establishes expectations.
    1. If they aren’t yet familiar with Brightspace, they can watch the intro videos and check out the Online Student Resource Center.
    2. They know what they need to do to succeed that first week.
    3. They understand what the workload will be like.
  3. Start prepared. Students know what materials they need for your class. You can even link to your Course Detail page if you need the link to the bookstore. ;)
  4. Preempts redundant questions. You tell students answers to questions they are going to ask anyway. Nothing wrong with making your life a little easier.

if you do give this a try, please share how it goes. We are continuing to explore ways to improve completion in online classes, but this one is so simple it’s hard not to promote.

Read more about Steve Smith and Jenn Kepka’s work in the September ITC article Improving Online Completion Rates. Jenn also has some presentation materials on her personal website.

About Andy Freed

I'm the Director of Learning Technology & Innovation (LTI!), where I oversee our infrastructure, technical support, and online student services teams. I've been with the College since 2001 and have worked in several positions, from tech... more »

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x by Jimena Alvarado 4 years ago

I’ve been doing this for a while, and it has GREAT results. I let folks know what the class is like and let them know they can easily switch to another one if it’s not a good fit. Makes us all much happier. I send them a video of me describing the class, which gives them a sens of what I’m like. If they find me annoying, it’s a good time for them to find a different instructor! this is my intro: https://youtu.be/1fyyh6dFQQc

x by Debra Lippoldt 4 years ago

Like Jimena, I send an introduction email a week before classes begin. Love her idea of a video intro as well… Thanks for sharing. Debra

x by Andy Freed 4 years ago

That’s awesome Jimena!

x by Jimena Alvarado 4 years ago

I use an non-traditional structure for my online class, so I need to know that students are ok with it before the term begins. Since they have to meet synchronously, I need them to get their schedules organized before the term begins. I send them the intro email and video 3 times before the term begins, as people drop and more of them add.
This is the video for the online class: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcpYfHkysZ0&feature=youtu.be

Between the synchronous online class and the flipped on-campus classes, I spend a LOT of time explaining the class structure at the beginning of the term, the pre-emails cut down the suffering for all of us.