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Orienting Students

Orienting Students to Your Course

We communicate course expectations to students in a variety of ways--our syllabus, welcome messages on our Camino page, slides, our first class meeting, and emails, for example. We worked especially hard to help orient students to our classes when we were forced to move to online teaching during the pandemic. There’s no reason not to continue this practice of helping everyone understand the structure of each course. See below for suggestions to ensure that students know what you expect of them in your course(s).

Syllabus: We have a great DRT page on syllabus design that we recommend you review. And as you think about design, think about the student experience. Faculty within departments and across the University organize their syllabi differently. Students take 3+ classes per quarter from a range of faculty using different approaches, and they might not know how best to read your syllabus. We can help students find relevant and critical information by orienting them to the syllabus. One way to orient students to your course is to teach them how to read your syllabus. Many of us use the first class meeting as a time to orient students to our course, but with multiple classes and the excitement about starting a new quarter, they may not remember all we’d like them to know. Here are some suggestions for having students engage more fully with your syllabus:

  1. Set up a Syllabus discussion board on Camino or enable students to add comments to your syllabus. Ask them as an assignment to identify what they’re most/least excited or curious about and why, what needs further explanation, or other questions.
  2. Have them take a basic quiz on the contents of the syllabus you most want them to attend to (e.g., your policy on late assignments, opportunities to make up exams, etc.). This can be an in-class quiz or on Camino.
  3. Have students personalize one of your learning outcomes by connecting it to their personal or professional life. This helps them think more deeply about your expectations for the course and to see how their goals align. You can have them submit their response as a discussion post, an assignment, or on paper in class.

Camino: How we organize our course on Camino varies even more than our syllabi and it’s good practice to let students know how you’d like them to use Camino for your course(s). Should they look under Files, Modules, Assignments, Pages for important information? Will they interact with groups on Camino? To let students know how to use Camino for your class you can:

  1. Create a short video of you navigating the course and explaining what they’ll find and where. This video can be on the landing page of your Camino site so students can refer to it when they need the information.
  2. Create a pdf that highlights what they’ll find in each of the folders.
  3. Send a welcome message using the Announcement feature of Camino that provides the steps they’ll take to  navigate the course.

Orienting Students to Your Online Course

As noted above, in a face-to-face course you likely communicate class norms and expectations to students in a variety of ways--through your syllabus, handouts, slides, oral communications, emails, and more. In online classes, these kinds of communications are even more critical. As you start orienting students to your online class, there are a few areas you may want to address.

Communication expectations:  Make sure students understand the best ways to get in touch with you. For example, will you be monitoring messages that are submitted through Camino, or should they use email instead? Also, let students know what channels you will be using to communicate with them and how often. If you plan to send out weekly announcements through Camino, students may want to check their notification preferences to be sure that they are receiving alerts when new announcements go out.

Modality expectations:  What aspects of the course are synchronous and asynchronous? What are the norms and expectations for interacting within particular spaces, such as Zoom sessions and Camino discussion forums? If most of your course activities are asynchronous, you and your students may need to manage your time differently than you would in a face-to-face course. Establishing a rhythm for participation that is feasible for both you and your students is important for making the online transition as smooth as possible (here’s an example of how you might map out participation expectations).

Course organization expectations: In a face-to-face course, we tend to think about individual class sessions as the primary unit of organization. In an online course, it’s common to think about modules as the primary unit of organization. An easy and student-friendly way to organize modules is by week and topic (e.g., “Week 1:  Introduction to Victorian Literature”). However you choose to organize your modules, be clear and consistent with your organizational scheme, and be sure students know what they are supposed to do within each module. Posting an overview or checklist at the beginning of each module can help to orient students.

Additional Resources

Page authors:
Rachel Stumpf, Stanford University Student Learning Programs

Patti Simone and Justin Boren, SCU Faculty Collaborative

Last updated:
April 2, 2024