Examples of tutor's responses to student introductions
In replying to this or any other first message, I'd be looking to respond promptly, modelling the kinds of interactions which are appropriate on this course. I'd want to give Giovanni some reward for getting this far and posting (rather than reading and not posting) and use this opportunity to encourage others to post so that early on we can build up a mass of messages so they can see how conferencing works.
I use the early messages to start to build a picture of the work we will be doing. This building, clarifying and agreeing expectations is important for individuals as a complement to their reading of the course guides, and of building the group that will need to work together. Part of this involves getting to know each other and I find some personal sharing and asking direct questions helps.
I am always careful to make the learning as accessible as possible, which might mean explaining acronyms, and with non-native English speakers, avoiding complex grammatical sentence structures (I find this hard!) and idioms.
For Giovanni in particular I'd want to encourage him to develop a more complete online persona than the one he has set up for himself in his introductory message.
My reply, underneath Giovanni's message
Welcome Giovanni and thank you for posting your introduction.
It's good to see that our group is going to have a 'computer guy' around. I'm sure your technical skills will be useful to you as you study this course and an asset to our tutor group. Some of the course activities actually involve building your own web pages and websites so you should find them OK.
I think one of the interesting things about working in e-learning, is that because it's an emerging field, people have come into it from all sorts of different directions. As well as from computing, I meet people from management, commerce, training and many other fields. My background is in psychology and education (but I have to admit to spending evenings scripting hypercard stacks in my youth - does anyone even remember them?)
As we all work together over the next few months you'll find that we need to draw on each others experience and expertise for informal support and to complete the scheduled collaborative activities. I'm sure you'll find that as well as your technical skills, you'll also have other experiences which will be valuable to share.
This graphical user interface (GUI) we are using here is fairly new, so I'd be interested to hear more your views on it. What do you like and dislike about it?
Lisa sounds nervous or maybe just busy - I'm always cautious about making assumptions about my learners - on or offline. Whatever the reason, she doesn't sound prepared to start the course and I'd want to help her to prepare by encouraging her to look ahead through the blocks and units and reflect on how her experiences map onto them. I hope she finds it less daunting than she anticipated and it encourages her to make a start. These first few weeks are so important.
I'd also like to use this opportunity to clarify for all the course participants something about the course content and processes. I might want to make them aware that we intend to use the conference as both social network and learning community. This will involve participants interacting frequently and feeling at ease to engage in academic discourse based on their developing understanding of the course readings and tasks. I'd want to point out to Lisa that this is dependent on everyone's active engagement - without sounding heavy handed and scaring her off.
As always, I'm trying to make personal connections, and easy, informal conversation. I find that course members are more tolerant of longer messages in the early stages of the course so I might have a few paragraphs. Something like…
My reply, underneath Lisa's message
Hi Lisa and thanks for sending us your introduction. I hope you find this tutor group a welcoming place to be and that you will use it to support your study on the course. You've taken quite a few steps already, you've logged on, read some messages and posted your own. Although engaging in this type of online group does take time, by far the majority of previous course participants tell us that they have found it the most valuable part of the course. It really is worth scheduling in some time for.
If you haven't done so already, why don't you browse the course calendar and start to familiarise yourself with some of the topics and activities we'll be doing together. You'll be able to see which weeks are mainly scheduled for individual tasks and which for collaborative activities. If your household is anything like mine (and it sounds quite a lot like it), it runs likes a military operation around the calendar on the kitchen wall! So, it'll be worth knowing when you expect to need to be online.
I'm intrigued by your reference to socio-cultural approaches to using technologies. One of things we'll be looking at on the course is how technologies influence (or is that determine?) our approaches to learning, if at all? Do you think your prior knowledge gives you a certain perspective on this?
[By the way, if you do plan to just browse the conferences, have a think about how that might be received by other course participants. They won't know if you've read their messages, quickly deleted them, laughed out loud or burst into applause. Is your silence angry, disinterested, bored or impressed? In a world without social cues, you have to be very obvious, and it is helpful to post reply when you can.]