Five ways to welcome your community members or new students

Whether you’re trying to create a learning community for the students starting your course or trying to nurture a community of practice for your business or organisation, one of the key elements of your strategy should be welcoming your participants. Every e-moderator should have welcoming techniques in their e-moderating toolbox.

Here are five top tips for creating a welcoming environment in that vital starting period.

  1. Explore what your community software or VLE offers in the way of welcoming emails and the like. If there’s an automated email to members when they sign up, see if you can personalise it to your situation in a friendly and helpful way. If the only email they get is an organisational one, and you can’t edit it, send your own separate email through the situation to welcome them to your course or community.
  2. Have an “Introduce yourself here” activity ready in the online discussions forum when your new users log on. Encourage them to share information about themselves in a non-scary way – ask for “safe” information but don’t expect them to reveal really personal details this early. Ask “What do you have on your desk?” or “What can you see from your window” so that they are encouraged to share information but it’s not as scary as being asked to detail their children’s ages or the A-level grades they got!
  3. Welcome every contributor individually in your first discussion. Later on when the community is working well they will be happy to answer one another, and you won’t need to make so many posts yourself, but at first, it’s essential to make them feel welcome and valued as soon as they make their first post.
  4. Offer a series of icebreaker activities (in the same way as you would in a classroom setting) to help the group begin to share information, respond to one another and begin to gel. Design the activities well so that purpose and task are clear, deadlines are obvious and you have modelled an appropriate response. Salmon’s e-tivities framework is an excellent way to design effective discussion activities.
  5. Use the announcements feature in your VLE or community software (Moodle and Blackboard both have this feature, for example), or send an email at an appropriate interval (e.g., I do it once a week in a 9-week course, twice in a 4- or 5-week course) to motivate and encourage users to log on and foster a lively and busy community.

These are just some of the ideas from my E-moderating course. […]

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