1 Welcome to My Desk! Introductions Within Our Learning Community

Dr. Alyson Adams

Course: Professional Development and Teacher Learning (EDG7359)


This activity is designed as the first discussion forum in an online course. It’s deceptively simple: students post a picture or video of themselves at their workplace and introduce themselves. Students are expected to interact with one another to build community as we start the course. The instructor, as a member of that community as well, should model the assignment and interact with students about their own posts.

Assignment Goals/ Outcomes

The purpose of this assignment is to build social presence, one element in the Community of Inquiry framework (https://coi.athabascau.ca/). This framework was designed to explain a process for learning in collaborative-constructivist online environments, and consists of three interconnected elements:

  1. Teaching Presence
  2. Cognitive Presence
  3. Social Presence

Social presence is largely a sense of connection to a learning community, and the expression of self within that community. In the activity described in here, the purpose is to initiate students into the community, recognizing their professional lives outside school and home, and to begin to connect to one other as colleagues within their community.

Assignment Setup (Instructor)

To set up this activity, create a discussion forum that allows threaded responses. You can also allow “liking” since this is pretty low stakes. Name the discussion and post instructions, along with a picture of yourself at your own desk. Then, throughout the week, interact with the students by reacting to and commenting on their posts.

It’s particularly helpful to ask questions of the students to encourage them to return and reply. I recommend waiting about 2-3 days after students begin replying to each other before you begin your own comments. Sometimes when an instructor is always the first one to respond, other students hesitate to join in, feeling like the conversation is between the instructor and that one student. It’s more helpful to build community if you encourage student to student interaction first (in my experience).

Student Instructions

Canvas screenshot of desk discussion

“Please post a picture or video of you in your workplace setting. You can do a webcam capture, a selfie, or a short video. We just want to see your smiling face and where you work. Please introduce yourself, where you are located, and your current job. Your post is due by Tuesday. Then, engage in a conversation throughout the rest of the week to get to know your classmates.

Below is a picture of me at my desk (insert picture). I consider this fairly clean for the start of a semester. I look forward to seeing your workspace and getting to know you!”

Grading (Instructor/TA)

I don’t usually grade this because I use this activity with doctoral students as an introduction to each other. My goal is interaction and connection. As an example of how you can have an effective assignment like this without grading it, the last time I used this activity I had 20 students in the class and there were a total of 192 posts and replies in this forum. This is a required activity, and I do follow up with any student who posts late or does not post at all.

You could choose to grade on participation only, or you might possibly provide feedback to each student on their level of interaction and whether that level will meet your expectations in a more serious, structured discussion later in the class.

Tips & Suggestions for Other Instructors

  • You might consider whether you’d like to use small groups to allow students to have deeper conversations with one another, rather than surface level comments that might happen if your group is too large and people have to read too many posts and replies. However, if your purpose is to forge a sense of community in the whole class, you might be better off keeping everyone together on this ungraded assignment.
  • If your audience is younger than mine, maybe undergraduates or people not yet in the workforce, you might have them post a picture of themselves in their favorite place to study, or a picture of them in their favorite room of their house/apartment.

Keywords: discussion, social presence, community, online, interaction, connection


No Walls Teaching: The Book Copyright © by Dr. Alyson Adams. All Rights Reserved.

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