For a quality online course that has been designed to be interactive, one cannot understate the importance of introductions. Face to Face or Online, it doesn't matter, the truth is the more an instructor prompts/expects interaction, the more it will happen.
Develop a sense of course community by providing opportunities for team building and getting to know one another. Start by introducing yourself and then have students follow your lead. This goes beyond the welcome message and will continue to set the tone of what you expect students to reveal about themselves. A well thought out introduction helps you go from being just an instructor (name on the page) to a human being...perhaps a mentor...possibly a Christian example...hopefully someone they respect and don't want to disappoint. These qualities lead into later blog posts on "Christian Influence Online" and "Cheating me Cheats you".
For the best results create a "Student Lounge" discussion board for introductions and all other types of social interactions between classmates. This allows for similar before or after class discussions that takes place in a traditional face to face classroom. Depending on class chemistry this may be seldom used or be the most visited page of your course, but the point is you have provided the space for non-academic interaction to take place. The payoff being that the more open your students are with each other socially, the deeper potential they have to dive into meaningful academic discussion and learning.
Do not forget to continue to use this space yourself to spark conversation and build relationships with your students. As with any part of your course if you do not occasionally prompt (advertise) for students to use it, the area can become a ghost town. That will be the topic of the next blog post "Engaging Students...never stops".
In closing, one could argue that the more they learn about you, the person (not just the professor), the more they can learn from you. There is no denying the more they realize you care and are interested in them the more attention they will pay to what you have to present. This is true in the classroom and still true online if you give yourself the opportunity.
Not a coincidence that the conceptual framework of the Lipscomb University College of Education (ranked top 4 in the nation) is instructing and guiding teachers of tomorrow with... C.A.R.E. Simply put, Teaching is Caring! That is true for K-12 and it still rings true with Higher Ed. When you do your best to create a sense of community among your students online, you are showing that you care.