Starting an Online Community

Part 1 -- Develop a Welcome Letter

[I would prefer to use the video format for a welcome letter, so that my audience of learners will identify me with a real human being. But I also think a transcript of the video is helpful. A photograph is also important.]

This is a course to help you navigate the road in starting and maintaining a homeschool education. It is primarily for parents who have decided to forgo the public education system and want to bring their kids home to be educated. I began my homeschool adventure 15 years ago, and have successfully educated three of my kids. 
When I began, I was unsure of where this would lead, or if I could pull it off, and see my kids with college degrees. Now, I am confident, as all three have been admitted to college. Two have bachelor's degrees from prestigious colleges, and one of my kids has just started college. One will continue on with medical school. 
But it's not just a good education that you worry about when you pull your kids out of traditional school -- it's the social aspect as well. I have found out that kids are naturally sociable or they may tend to be shy.  
It really has nothing to do with how they were "schooled." In fact, I have noticed that homeschooled kids are more confident when they get to college, more motivated, and engage in classroom discussions. So, rest assured, your kids can still be socially adjusted citizens. There are outside activities such as sports, music, and religion that fulfill those needs. 
My kids have gone to foreign countries to teach english, volunteer, and experience other cultures. My 23 year old homeschooled son is majoring in Chinese, currently volunteering in an orphanage in China.  
Two of my sons competed in sports during their homeschool year. We were part of a club soccer program, and I found a way to include track and field at the nearby high school. All states have a different requirement when you decide to homeschool, and these rules are easily met. Today, there are more resources for parents who make the decision to homeschool. I am a believer that homeschool can work, and that there are numerous success stories.  
I have an educational background in the sciences, received a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Occidental College in Los Angeles, California, and graduate studies in pharmacology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. While I am not a credentialed teacher, I have learned how to learn through these studies. Currently I am completing my master's degree in Education with an emphasis in eLearning. I have raised five kids, love to write, and keep an ongoing blog for homeschool. 
I will be sharing the legal aspects of homeschooling with you, choosing curriculum, keeping your sanity, and anything else you may bring up. 
As we are all adults here, trying to make the best choices for our kids, I hope to instill that atmosphere of learning where we can share our concerns with each other and respect our opinions. No one should make anyone feel uncomfortable or wrong for making the best decisions for their own family. Please review the need to polite and observe proper internet conduct in discussion boards, email and all conversations. This is a good video to help you remember to be kind: 

Part 2 -- Reflection

Learning can occur in a number of ways, in various locations, in groups of two or more, or in a solitary atmosphere. But a mentor can facilitate learning when someone has a quest for knowledge. While traditional classroom settings have been the norm for relaying information and educating the people, they are not the only means. In fact, face-to-face classroom settings do not guarantee successful learning. 

Everyone has memories of great teachers, as well as very poor teachers. As eLearning becomes more accepted and accessible, this method will need to be examined for successful techniques. There will always be some that are more effective than others, just as it is for traditional classroom settings. There is no guarantee that teachers will be effective, even though they have several degrees and published papers. 

This is why students consult with websites, such as Rate My Professor. Some teachers convey information better, supporting an atmosphere of excitement in the learning process. I have learned in situations where I had little knowledge of the instructor, simply because I had a strong desire to learn, and the teacher had compiled the information in an engaging way, or had simply written words that were prompting me to continue.

Most students in online communities want an instructor to have a human presence, which includes self disclosure, individualized feedback, a feeling of relationship, and even humor (Reupert, Mayberry, Patrck, & Chittleborough, 2009). Surveys and focus studies determined that students prefer engaging, approachable, understanding, patient, passionate teachers that have that human side (Reupert, et. al, 2009). There were only 5 students out of 68 that preferred to study on their own, and had no preference for seeing the human side of their instructor (Reupert, et. al, 2009). 

A welcome letter or video from the teacher sets the mood of the course. Students want to know the instructor’s background, knowledge, and experience in the subject matter. You don’t go to a novice to learn, but instead you chose someone who has traversed the road already – with success. Learners want to feel a strong sense of presence from the learning community, which includes the instructor (Sung & Mayer, 2012). 

This is true in all areas of learning. This is why peer editing does not convey much confidence in courses. You can’t teach or guide what you don’t know. The purpose of my welcome letter is to instill confidence that I know what I am talking about, so that my students will feel that they can succeed as well.

The welcome letter should include information about the course, learning objectives, methods of assessment, instructional materials, learner support, and learner interaction (Maryland Online, 2011). After reviewing some welcome letters and videos, I found that there are a couple of formats. Most of the videos are informal, using first person dialogue, which reveals your human side (Reupert, et. al, 2009). The written welcome can be in either first person, or third person (more formal). Sometimes there was a transcript of the video (in first person) and an "about" page that provided information about the instructor (in third person).


An example of a welcome letter:  Louis A. Bloomfield, Professor of Physics, University of Virginia. In the video presentation, the professor presents the course with enthusiasm. Also on this page, is the class syllabus, course format, recommended background, and suggested readings. It is an effective introduction, in the Coursera.org format.

Another example of a welcome letter, on the Canvas platform: Maria H. Anderson, Director of Learning and Research. Her online video welcome: 


Chittleborough, P., Maybery, D., Patrick, K., & Reupert, A. (2009). The importance of being human:     instructors' personal presence in distance programs.  International Journal of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education, 21(1), 47-56.

Maryland Online. (2011).  Quality Matters Rubric Standards 2011-2013 Edition.  Retrieved from http://www.qmprogram.org/files/QM_Standards_2011-2013.pdf

Sung, E. and Mayer, R.E., 2012. Five facets of social presence in online distance education. Computers in Human Behavior, 8(5), 1738-1747.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Deila.
    Try to find a theoretical perspective of elearning to use as a framework for your critical analysis of the topic. For example Moore's theory of Transactional distance is still very useful for understanding and examining the issues of presence in online learning.
    Giossos, Y., Koutsouba, M., Lionarakis, A., & Skavantzos, K. (2009). Reconsidering Moore’s transactional distance theory. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning. Retrieved from http://www.eurodl.org/?article=374

    I ordinarily use YouTube to record a simple introductory video as you describe. I embed the video on the various blogs and wikis that I use to teach and mentor.


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