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Day 1: Focus on Success & Community

Posted by:
August 17, 2016

by Dana Bodewes, Instructional Designer

The first day of class should be more than just a review of the syllabus. The beginning of a new term provides an opportunity to prepare students for success and establish community in your course before diving deep into instructional activities. Here are a few suggestions for making the first day of class meaningful and successful.

Prepare Students for Success

  • Set expectations for communication and participation. Explain how students are expected to engage with the instructor, with their peers, and with course content. What protocols should students use when communicating or participating?
  • Share course goals and learning objectives. Describe what students are expected to know and be able to do by the end of the course. Based upon course goals, share weekly or unit level learning objectives to focus student attention and prepare them for assessments.
  • Provide strategies for success in your course. Rather than point to generic study skill information with students, explain a few tips for how to be successful in your course. How should students prepare for assessments? What should students do if they are struggling or have a question?
  • Utilize a syllabus quiz. Consider creating a short online quiz or scavenger hunt to assess students’ understanding of syllabus content. Be sure to select questions addressing the most critical policies and procedures for student success. Let students retake the quiz an unlimited number of times to earn a few points toward their course grade.
  • Explain how you will use Sakai or other key technologies. Instructors use technology in many different ways and it is important for you to specify how key tools will be used in your course. Consider spending a few minutes demonstrating critical tools and practices.

Establish Community

  • Solicit feedback regularly from students. Check in with students each class meeting or each week to see if students are struggling with either course content or procedural issues. CATs or classroom assessment techniques work well for this purpose.
  • Note student interests and concerns. When students provide feedback, consider how you might integrate interests and concerns into lecture and discussion. Personalization of learning is a strong motivator for students.
  • Opt for meaningful icebreakers. When icebreakers are used in a course, try to design activities to have value in addition to getting to know student names. Ideas include:
    • Fast Facts – Create a list of 25 questions with facts students will eventually learn in your course. Put students into teams of three and see how many questions groups can answer in 7 minutes. Students can use any resource to locate unknown answers. This activity promotes teamwork and efficient use of resources.
    • Find Someone Who… – Create 3X3 grids of nine boxes, each box containing a condition. For example: find someone pursuing a major in the School of Arts and Communication, find someone who has lived in Hinderlie Hall, find someone who grew up in Parkland, etc. Students interview each other and obtain the initials of someone who meets each condition. The key is to create charts with facts that are relevant to your course or population of students.
    • Dream Job – Ask students to share what their dream jobs would be and why. When they were young, what did they want to do when they grew up? What would they do now if they won the lottery and money wasn’t a factor? This activity helps reveal student passions and interests and is particularly useful for upper-division courses in a major.

For additional ideas on this topic, check out “The First Days of Class” in Barbara Gross Davis’s book Tools for Teaching, available in PLU’s Mortvedt Library. What strategies do you use to prepare students for success and to establish community on the first day of classes? Share your ideas in the comments below. Good luck with the new semester!

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