First day nuggets

Amanda Griffin, M.Ed – Trainer, Professional Development with contributions from Dr. Pamela Auburn – Faculty, Chemistry

Welcome back to our returning UP family members, and welcome home to newcomers like me! As we begin the semester, I am sharing nuggets of wisdom on how to start strong on the first day from our very own Dr. Pamela Auburn, Professor of Chemistry and Lead Faculty.

“By learning you will teach, by teaching you will learn.” ―Latin Proverb

The first day of class is a one-time opportunity to build community in your classroom and set the stage for active learning. You can give students a taste of the engaging intellectual journey they will undertake in the coming semester by sending them an email before the first day welcoming them to class, introducing yourself, and providing a copy of your syllabus.

Create an agenda. This will show students you are prepared. Have a slide with the agenda or post it on the whiteboard.  Incorporate tasks to peak student curiosity and build community.

Welcome students. Data indicates that students learn better when you know their names. Of course this will not happen on day one, but you can start by welcoming students as they walk through the door. Allow students an opportunity to introduce themselves during class. An icebreaker activity wherein students pair off and introduce each other can help foster community (be sure to offer some structured questions to guide the introductions).

The syllabus. It is critical for students to understand your class structure and assignments, but reading through the syllabus word-for-word only puts everyone involved to sleep. Instead, consider a syllabus investigation activity. First, have students mark what they think are the five most important items on your syllabus. Then, have them form groups of 3-4 to share and compare. Lastly, have a spokesperson from each group ask questions about the syllabus.  Be sure to explain how the course activities are connected to learning outcomes.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ―Maya Angelou

Build Community. You want to set the stage for two-way communication in your class. You might consider a reciprocal interview: allowing students to ask you questions pertaining to your expectations, course content, and goals for the class, then asking them similar questions. I always find it informative to ask students what excites them or frightens them about the class or what questions they hope to get answered. By asking these types of questions, you show students you value their input, and the answers to these questions can help you build relevant content applications.

In online courses, you may wish to create a discussion forum that allows students to introduce themselves (this could even be your first graded activity for ODR purposes!). While none of this is required, these prompts may help you to get started:

  • In this class, I would like to learn more about _____.
  • As a member of an online group, I would like other to know _____.
  • In the future I plan to _____.
  • My biggest challenge is _____.
  • My secret indulgence is _____.
  • I am most proud of _____.

You may also suggest that students post an appropriate photo as either a .jpg or .png attachment. This dual-purpose discussion helps to build community in the online classroom while teaching the instructor a lot about their students. It is possible to use this information to better connect and incorporate relevant content. To get the conversation started, post about yourself first!

A Few Pointers:

  • ​If you have the opportunity, visit your classroom before day one. Look at the setup and consider what activities might work best there.
  • Check out the technology – make sure it is working and you know how to use it (it is always good to have a low-tech back up plan).
  • Post your syllabus on D2L.
  • For the first day you cannot overdress but you can underdress. Set a professional tone early; you can ease up a bit later.

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