Getting Your Online Class Started

Research Says...

Quality Matters
The Quality Matters program is a faculty-centered, peer review-based process to certify the quality of online courses and online components. QM, sponsored by MarylandOnline, Inc., has generated widespread interest and received national recognition for its peer-based approach to quality assurance and continuous improvement in online education. With the conclusion of three year of support from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), MOL has transitioned the Quality Matters project into a self-supporting program through institutional subscriptions and a range of fee-based services. (

Resources & Examples

"Using Icebreakers"
A short article on using icebreakers with a good bibliography.
Online Learning Style Questionnaire
A thorough learning style survey that categorizes learners into Active/Reflective, Sensing/Intuitive, Visual/Verbal, and Sequential/Global. Includes good follow-up information.
Learning Space Game
Play this simple drag and drop game to see how to enhance your study space for online (or any!) learning
Distance Learning Calculator
Learn how much you can save by taking an online course.
Sample Class Intro w/Audio
An introduction to an online class taught by Lucy McDonald that includes an audio clip. I also like it because her personality really shines through in this introduction and helps set the tone for the course. JH

Screen shots of an online class orientation assignment that contains 5 specific, graded tasks. Julie H.

Orientation Checklist. This is the Orientation Checklist that I use to make sure that students are prepared for the the class. It's one of the assignments in the sample orientation above.

Example Orientation Assignment (Using the Message Board) that has screen shots of how to perform the task.

Multiple Online Orientations

Ben_19.jpg Many online classes have only one method of orientation -- online orientation. Purists will tell you that that's the only way to go for online classes. However, since students enter the classes with a wide variety of backgrounds, I believe that we should meet the students' needs first, so I offer 3 methods of orientation:
  1. Online orientation, of course. Just to have it handy throughout the course for reminders is helpful. Secondly, I give a quiz on this orientation, just in case the students only print it out and don't read it. (Don't laugh. This has actually happened and the student was seriously annoyed when she got an F and the printer got an A!)
  2. Video orientation - this is for those students who are having difficulty getting online for a variety of reasons: their ISP isn't set up; WebCT isn't ready, they don't have a computer ... Whatever they reason, they can still get the orientation material on good ole video. Again there are 2 ways: 1) Check out the video (VHS or DVD) from the library or 2) Watch it on the colleges cable TV service. This is open to the public. So imagine my surprise when my neighbor said to me "I saw you on TV at 2 am!"
  3. Safety Net: If these two orientations don't get to the students, then I offer Saturday handson orientation at the end of the first week of class. I make it long enough to do the full orientation for the class and complete all the work for week 1. That way they can go back home and be ready with the rest of the class to start week 2. Hands on necessitates coming to campus. But some students really like this and will drive up to 8 hours one way to attend this session.
--Lucy, Chemeketa CC, Salem, OR


  • Students love it when the instructor replies to every single introduction message with an individual welcome to that student.
  • Have specific orientation activities where students must demonstrate that they know how to use all of the important features of the course management system: use the message board, post to the discussion board, attach an assignment, etc.
  • Be enthusiastic and let your personality come through. It's important to students that they feel like they know their instructor - that you're not some impersonal computer voice.
  • Be assertive in following up students, especially in the first weeks. If they haven't responded or checked in according to the timetable, email them right away to see what's up. Students can easily become confused, especially if it is their first online course. This level of instructor involvement is essential.