A Most Welcome Letter

Welcoming students to our courses is one of those small things that can make a big difference. Going beyond a simple syllabus to create engaging course materials shows the instructor’s commitment and can set the tone for class interactions. In today’s blog we talk to Melissa Ramirez, Teaching Associate Professor in Biological Sciences and OFE SoTL Fellow about her interesting approach to the design of a unique welcome letter for her course. Her conversation with Maria Gallardo-Williams, Senior Faculty Development Specialist with the Office for Faculty Excellence is below or you can listen to it here.

MGW: Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Faculty Forum. Today I have a very special guest. I am going to have a little chat with Melissa Ramirez, who is a teaching associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences in a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Fellow in the Office for Faculty Excellence.

Melissa has come up with an idea that I love, which is to make a very special welcome letter for her microbiology courses. So I wanted to ask her some questions about it.

Melissa, this is so innovative. How did you come up with this idea?

MR: Well, I’ve always heard about faculty sending out welcome letters ahead of their classes opening so maybe a week before they send out a welcome letter, or maybe they open up their moodle site ahead of the semester, so that students can pop in and take a peek around.

I am a perpetual tinkerer, and I am never ready to go ahead of time, because I’m always in there trying to tweak things or make things just look a little bit better, but I I like this idea of being able to reach out to students a little bit ahead of time, just to answer some really common questions that they might have before the semester get started. So my welcome letter is not anything close to as complete as my syllabus, but it does give them sort of a taste of what they can expect

MGW: I love the look of your letter, and I realize that it only has the highlights of your syllabus. But how did you come up with this design? Did you use an existing template? Did you come up with it yourself? How did that happen?

MR: So I really love to use the website Canva, which has a lot of digital templates for just everything under the sun, and I spent some time kind of looking around Canva looking at the different types of formats and templates that they had, and I kind of combined some things that I like about a couple of different things. I wanted a way to easily get it to students, so I wanted it to be a pdf, but I also wanted students to be able to access it via Google Drive. So I have both of those available for students.

Give students a little bit of information, but not just information, kind of like a little bit of an introduction to me, and I feel like my welcome letter has some things that I really like and it’s interesting to look at it. It’s not just text. I am a person who is perpetually online, and I love to consume all sorts of digital social media. And so to me it’s something that’s just a little bit more interesting, and I think that when you break things up visually that way you can just highlight specific things that you want students to look at. So I tried to make it graphically interesting,

MGW: And I think you’ve really accomplished that because it is very interesting. Have you received any feedback from your students? Did they say anything about it?

MR: I haven’t asked them specifically about my welcome letter. Generally students tell me that they like my approach to communicating with them, because I give them lots of choices in the way they can interact with the material. I also try to do that here. So there’s interesting stuff to look at, but there is also just text that they can read. This information is not just given to them in the welcome letter. They can find it as just text in the syllabus. They can find it sort of broken out for them as hyperlinks in emails or in Moodle blocks. So I think that what I hear most from students is that they value the accessibility and the choice in my course.

MGW: Yes,I think so. That’s right. We really appreciate that. Well, thank you so much for talking to us, Melissa. I will make sure to share the welcome letter, so that our readers and listeners have a chance to look at it and thank you so much for talking to us today.

MR: Thank you.