Submitted by Stephanie Whalen, Academy Chair, English & Interdisciplinary Studies

Although we may believe that students have all the information they need when they register for classes, many still have questions such as what materials they need, where and when they need to engage with the course, and when they will be able to access Blackboard.

Welcome Messages Helpful to Students Trying to Navigate the Start of the Semester
A classic example of student confusion involves a student realizing too late that TR on their schedule means a course meets on Tuesday AND Thursday; some students figure that out by the first week of classes, and others miss a Thursday or two before they realize that R means Thursday in our system. Given the increased variety of ways we are offering instruction and our pandemic-related class size limitations, there is additional start-up information that students may need to feel fully-prepared for the semester.
Many faculty have gotten into the routine of emailing students on their rosters through the Student Information System to communicate everything they need to know to be ready for day one. Some are able to make the syllabi and course shells available before the course starts, whereas others are not ready to share that information until the first day of the term, in which case it may be even more critical to send out a communication so that students know what to expect. In the absence of any communication from the instructor or seeing the course shell available, students often begin reaching out to various offices across campus and emailing faculty with mild or intense panic. This semester, with some classes running asynchronously, some live synchronous, and some on-campus and blended with divided sections with half of the class members meeting one day and the other half meeting the other day to accommodate seating restrictions, students can especially benefit from a clarifying email from their instructors. In order to help everyone feel confident about their schedules and planning for the semester, you may consider sending out an email to students clarifying how and when they need to engage with the course, when the course shell will be open, and what they will need to be prepared, including the amount of time they should expect to invest each week and tips on how to successfully engage in the discipline.
As an alternative to sending out a message to your class via the roster in the Student Information System, contacting students with a group Announcement that goes out to their emails via Blackboard can be done by posting a message and clicking a box to send it out via email. The Announcement will then remain as a post in the Blackboard shell for any students who did not get the email. Doing both certainly couldn’t hurt.
If you need any support in preparing or opening a shell, sending messages via the Student Information System or your Blackboard shell, or putting together an orientation for your course, please use the Academy Request Form and a team member will reach out to you.

Sample Pre-Semester Message Template:

Welcome to our __________course! I am looking forward to working with you as we explore/learn/discover____________.

This course _____________________ (is fully asynchronous, is asynchronous with optional live sessions that will be recorded, has a regular online meeting day and time, blended with some on-campus meetings, on-campus with limited seating capacity that will be addressed by _____).

The course activities and assignments are contained inside our course Blackboard shell. A link to our shell is now available/will be available by ____________ in your Harper Student Portal at If you have trouble logging into the Harper Student Portal, please contact the help desk at 847.925.6866 or

In order to prepare for the course, please make sure you have _______________ by __________________. The attached syllabus includes more detailed information about what you will need and what you can expect in the course (or provide information about how to obtain materials and what to expect if the syllabus is not yet ready). To be successful in a ____________ course, you should plan to ______________________________ (insert information on how much time and how often they should engage with the course as well as other tips such as use of study resources specific to the course as well as recommended note-taking methods).

Please contact me with any questions or concerns as you get ready for our __________________course.