First Contact Assignment  

The first  CTL lesson module should include an introductory exercise that establishes the communication between the instructor and the student. This activity is most effective when it is due during the first week of class. The earlier it is due, the quicker you can identify students that may be having problems connecting to the course. Another benefit to doing this activity early is that students will have the opportunity to have some of their tuition refunded if they choose to withdraw from, or are withdrawn from the course (usually the deadline for this is the 3rd Friday after classes begin).

The purpose of this assignment is to confirm that every student can:

  • log into and access Canvas or other course site
  • get started in the course
  • access their university email account
  • overcome their technical difficulties

How Can I Use This in My Course?

This assignment can take many forms. Below are some examples of exercises that you can have your students do that will let you know they are ready to participate in your class:

  • log into the course blog and create an introductory post
  • create an introductory post in the class discussion forum
  • take a survey-type quiz that will let you know their expectations for the course, what their goals are, or their background experience
  • have student take a pre-course survey which would then be given as a post-course survey to evaluate learning.
  • do a scavenger hunt through the course that includes items from the syllabus (a good way of getting them to read it thoroughly)
  • connect with the instructor and students using a social media tool that will be used in class like Twitter, Diigo, or iNaturalist
  • have students create an account in a technology tool that you’ll be using in the course and introduce themselves using the tool

Considerations for Online Courses

A first-contact assignment is especially important in  an online environment because students are not walking into your physical classroom daily and making contact with you in that way. In an online course, you may have no way to take attendance (and note the student who hasn’t shown up all semester). This first assignment is a way of “taking attendance,” identifying barriers to attendance (can this student log-in to Canvas? Is his connection good enough to complete the video introduction?), and also getting to know your students.

Note that in the online environment, there is opportunity to elaborate on the standard first assignment or introduction by using different tools. Maybe students write a blog post,  annotate a picture of their hometown (Thinglink), or experiment with using a tool that will be important to the course.

In Practice

Here are some other examples of first contact assignments:

How Dr. VanSpronsen Uses First Contact Assignments in Her Courses

Research Foundations

Michinov, N., Brunot, S., Le Bohec, O., Juhel, J., & Delaval, M. (2011). Procrastination, participation, and performance in online learning environments.  Computers & Education,  56(1), 243-252.

Munoz-Organero, M., Munoz-Merino, P. J., & Kloos, C. D. (2010). Student behavior and interaction patterns with an LMS as motivation predictors in e-learning settings.  IEEE Transactions on Education,  53(3), 463-470.

Riggs, S. A., & Linder, K. E. (2016). Actively Engaging Students in Asynchronous Online Classes. IDEA Paper# 64.  IDEA Center, Inc.

Shelton, B. E., Hung, J. L., & Lowenthal, P. R. (2017). Predicting student success by modeling student interaction in asynchronous online courses.  Distance Education,  38(1), 59-69.