Mark Your Starting Point with an "Opening Celebration"

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Mark the starting point of your team project or online course with an “opening celebration” that breaks the ice and encourages participation.

If such a notion doesn’t match your personal leadership or teaching style, think of another way to accomplish the same goal.

Keep in mind, however, that participants are known to contribute more fully and eagerly in an online group when they have a sense of engagement with the other participants.

Part of your job as a team leader or online instructor is to inspire that sense of engagement.

Scholars of the new media call the process “community building.”

However you make it happen, this first step in your Implementation Phase is essential to preventing dropouts and creating a successful experience for all.

In a face-to-face setting, you start the process as soon as you say, “All right, everybody, let’s get started.”

  • You introduce yourself.
  • You set the tone.
  • You show enthusiasm for your subject.
  • You acknowledge the participants and draw them in.

An opening online celebration serves this same purpose.

If you too see the wisdom of an opening celebration, here are a few simple guidelines:

  • Send out an invitation.
  • Provide directions/instructions.
  • Be a good host.

Send Out An Invitation

Use your growing HTML skills to give it some personality, with color and different sizes and types of fonts. Use visuals to evoke the mood you’d like to create.

What mood does the invitation below evoke in you?

SUBJECT: Kickoff Party
DATE: March 13-16, 2001
BY: Claude Whitmyer, Course Facilitator

You are cordially invited to attend
the Kickoff Party

When: March 13 to March 16
Where: The FutureU Schmooze Virtual Café.

Your fellow participants, course facilitator, and other FutureU personnel will all be present to welcome you and serve you virtual hors d’oeuvres. There will be a virtual bar serving virtual punch, coffee, and tea. So come on out and join the fun.

Provide Directions

Clear instructions will make it easier for people to find and enjoy your party. Here is an example.

To Join the Kickoff Party on the FutureU Campus

1. Connect to the FutureU electronic campus located at [not a real link].

The following FutureU icons will appear:

FutureU Schmooze
FutureU Support Info
FutureU Learning Spaces
FutureU News
FutureU Calendar

2. Double-click on the FutureU Schmooze icon. This will take you into the virtual café area. Notice the messages in the lower pane of the dialogue box or window. Some of these are café introductory files, but the rest contain the party action. To join in, simply read the messages that are already posted and then add your own replies.

When you first enter the room, it might seem as if you’re the only one there, but just close your eyes and imagine the buzz of cocktail party chatter. Imagine the most interesting person you’ve ever met who has just engaged you in small talk. At last, you have the chance to compose yourself and make the perfect reply.

Strike up a conversation about your interests. Tell horror stories or spin tails of fabulous success about the adventures you had during the last week learning to use the classroom software. Talk about anything you like. It’s party time!

3. Check back in frequently. Events such as this one would normally take place in a single evening, but here in cyberspace the same conversation can take several days. So, over the next few days, you’ll be able to keep partying as you check back in the FutureU Schmooze forum and read and respond to what your fellow participants have posted.

See you there and don’t be square.

Be a Good Host

Be a good host.

  • Ask questions.
  • Draw people out.
  • Reveal something about yourself.

You might, for example, explain how you first got interested in the subject you are about to explore together.

  • Set explicit start and stop dates. It’s a party, not an all-nighter. Be clear in your invitation and again as your allotted time period draws to a close that the socializing will end at midnight (or whenever) and that work begins thereafter.

Academic Version, Release 3.0