Strategies for better first-week student engagement

It’s the first week of class. Do you know where your students are? It can be a rocky time for students the first week, even for those who are experienced. Part of our job as faculty is to help them get up to speed as quickly as possible. Here are some tips for engagement in the first week.

Where is your class?

Are you teaching in Canvas, Blackboard or Google Classroom? Ideally, a few days before class starts, email students and let them know where to find your course. If students don’t log in by the second day of class, reach out to them individually to make sure they know where to find it. In Canvas, use the Inbox feature to email students in class. Let students know it is vital to get started right away and tell them how to get started and what to do first. You can also refer students to this resource to help them navigate the location of courses at UAF.

NOTE: Check UAOnline class search to ensure your course is coded correctly for location (i.e., CANVAS or BLKBD under Location). Let your department admin know if it is incorrect and email students to advise them where to log in.

Instructions for identifying and contacting students in your course:



Google Classroom

What’s required?

In your first email, include any textbook and materials information. Let them know if you’ve provided the first few chapters to them so they can get started right away while their books arrive. If you require software, make sure you also include system specifications for running the software. Let them know to introduce themselves to their peers in the discussion forum or wherever you have designed classroom interaction to happen.

Are YOU excited?

Is your welcome announcement perfunctory, or does your excitement for meeting your new students shine through? Creating a welcoming environment is crucial to engaging students right away. Participate and share your enthusiasm by responding to students in the introduction forum or wherever students are forming community connections. Respond as quickly as possible, so they know you’re there for them. Add fun elements and welcoming language to your announcements. In your Getting Started section, record a video introducing yourself and the course and let your personality come through. Create a video showing how to navigate your course. Set a custom home page in Canvas with a banner image as well as welcome and getting started statements.

What do students need?

Studies show that at least 65% of students may not purchase your textbook (see references). Consider using a survey to students at the start of class to ask if they have the textbook and, if not, whether they plan to buy the text. Provide information about lower-cost options, library resources or alternative open educational resources instead of an expensive textbook when possible.

In your survey, ask if there is anything you should know that might affect their success in class in terms of getting work in on time. Follow up with links to the appropriate student services support if necessary. Here is a summary of available resources. It will be helpful to know if the student is a single parent working full time or working alternating weeks on the North Slope, for example. Students may not know that they should connect with UAF Disability Services if they need special accommodations. They may not be aware of tutoring options on campus. Follow up with these students and help point them in the right direction.

There are a couple of good resources you can use to help provide students with this information. First, use the UAF Syllabus Template that lists available services for students. Add any other services that may be helpful for your specific course. You can also add a page for how to get help from within your course. The UAF Course Template in Canvas Commons (login required) includes a “Help I’m Stuck” page with links to resources that you can easily import into your Canvas course. Finally, UAF Faculty Senate put together some strategies to support students during COVID-19.

Ask for feedback

It’s not too early to ask for feedback from students, even in the first week. You can create a survey to ask how students feel about their first week and how you can help them feel comfortable and oriented. Ask them if there is anything else you should cover. Regularly invite constructive feedback to help you improve your approach.

Join us

Instructional designers are available to help you troubleshoot any engagement roadblocks you encounter. Please join us for Virtual Open labs, individual consultations, or other training sessions.


Nagle, C., K. Vitez. 2021. Fixing the Broken Textbook Market, Third Ed. U.S. PIRG Education Fund. Retrieved from

Donaldson, R., J. Opper and E. 2019. Florida Student Textbook & Course Materials Survey. Florida Virtual Campus, Tallahassee, Florida. Retrieved from

McKenzie, L. 2017. Wakefield Research Study: High Textbook Prices Lead to Poor Grades. Inside Higher Ed. 9/20/2017. Retrieved from


Jennifer Moss

Instructional Designer
edX Certified Course Creator
Creative Commons Certified Educator

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *