No matter how many years we may teach, the chaos of the first day of classes can make us feel like newbies again. And we are all too aware, whether Oscar Wilde said it or not, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” With this in mind, WCTL offers a few thoughts for navigating the first day of classes:
Capture their Imaginations: What questions and puzzles dominate your class? Why did you gravitate to this topic? At the end of the day (or the semester), on what adventures of the mind will your course take your students? Raise questions to get the mental gears churning. Pose a mini case-study from the course to capture their imaginations and get them wondering. Challenge your students to ask questions from day one.
Get to know your group right from the start: If you are tech savvy, a phone app such as Poll Everywhere, Kahoot!, or Quizlet can reveal their starting points and lines of diverging opinion. Or use an anonymous paper survey, reshuffled among the students for the purposes of discussion (without embarrassment). By getting to know what your students think, you can open the door to a more meaningful conversation that will last the entire semester.
Tour the Terrain: Using the latest UTC Syllabus Template and your Canvas course, point out the vistas and worthwhile climbs that make your class rewarding. All too often, students can get lost in the details right at the start. Think of the first day as your chance to invite them on a journey into a new world of understanding.
These are the things any of us try to do at the start of a semester. A little reminder, though, can help us to focus on what matters. Isn’t the classroom situation that odd space where chaos and uncertainties converge, but over time confidence and insight emerge? Let the games begin by beginning well!
Resources on Approaching Day 1:
If you would like to discuss your class with an instructional developer, please contact the Walker Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-4188.
Each year in May, the Walker Center for Teaching and Learning hosts their Instructional Excellence Conference. This year’s conference on May 7th-8th featured renowned author and speaker, Dr. Todd Zakrajsek of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The attendance this year was higher than ever before and many of our UTC faculty and guests commented on the helpful teaching strategies they learned from the workshops focused on cognitive load, dynamic lecturing, and active learning. Each year’s audience seems more committed to engaging students and branching out to try new things.
One of our goals in the Walker Center is to help faculty find meaningful professional development throughout the year. By hosting the IE Conference, we have been able to bring in some great speakers, as well as provide a forum for faculty to meet and network with peers and colleagues. This year, we announced the winner of the inaugural Grayson H. Walker Excellence in Teaching Award that went to Tonya Miller of the Department of Interior Architecture and Design. Congratulations, Tonya!
On Friday, March 29 from 11:30-1pm, over 130 community partners and UTC staff and faculty attended the first ever Experiential Learning Celebratory Luncheon in the UC Chattanooga Rooms. The Chancellor, Provost, Experiential Learning Task Force, and many other Experiential Learning partners came together to meet each other, hear Provost Hynd and Chancellor Angle’s remarks about the past, present and future of Experiential Learning at UTC. Linda Bachman, who led University of Georgia through their recent implementation of an Experiential Learning graduation requirement. There was also time for sharing reflections on building experiential learning opportunities for students, as well as areas for growth. Themes that emerged from this discussion are: Interdisciplinary Collaboration, Strategic Internship Placement, Paying students, Scaling EL / Students Workers, Graduate Studies, Faculty and Administrative buy-in, concern for faculty workload, research as Experiential Learning, and consistency and evaluation. If you have any questions or thoughts about any of this, we would enjoy hearing from you, and please do not hesitate to contact me at: email@example.com
Brad Reynolds and Tom Wilson received a Beyond the Classroom ThinkAchieve grant to fund an experiential learning activity in a general education non-laboratory science course. During fall 2012, students in Bio/ESC 1100 (Conservation of Biodiversity) were given the option to participate in a hands-on field experience and reflection activity in lieu of taking the final exam in the course. Instead of just listening to a professor talk about conservation, these student volunteers actually practiced conservation and contributed to a real-life conservation-based research project. The conservation project, still ongoing, seeks to monitor the impact of upland deforestation on local amphibian populations.
The instructors, Brad Reynolds and Tom Wilson, took the student volunteers to a local wetland where the students helped sample and process frogs and salamanders. Once in the field, students checked pitfall traps for animals and learned how to properly identify, sex, and measure the frogs and salamanders they discovered. They were likewise taught how to properly record scientific data, before releasing the animals into the wild.
Critical thinking was fostered in the student volunteers through active, experiential learning and critical reflection. Students were expected to keep reflective journals before, during, and after the experience as a means of documenting the transformation that had taken place within them. These journals also served as a vehicle through which critical thinking and the challenging of preconceived assumptions was encouraged. According to Brad Reynolds, “We challenged the students to actively combat the biodiversity crisis by participating in a real-world conservation-based amphibian monitoring project. The end result was that the students developed a greater respect for reptiles and amphibians, and at the same time, had their overall conservation ethics impacted in a positive way through experiential learning and reflection.”
Brad Reynolds is a faculty member in the Biological and Environmental Sciences. In addition to the Conservation of Biodiversity course, he teaches Introduction to Environmental Science I and II.
Thomas Wilson is also a faculty member in the Biological and Environmental Sciences. He teaches Herpetology, Ecology and Amphibian Conservation.
The Seven Principles
By: Dawn M. Ford
It was in 1987 when Chickering and Gamson wrote about the seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. Years later, those principles still hold up, so it’s good to review them every now and again to keep us fresh.
Principle one is that contact between students and faculty should be encouraged. It’s important that students know that faculty care about them. How can that be encouraged? We can provide multiple ways in which students can reach us – email, phone, office hours – and of course, we should be responsive. We can arrive to class early and stay late to encourage interaction with our students. Principle two is that reciprocity and cooperation among students should be cultivated. Deep and meaningful learning happens when students work as teams. Otherwise, what’s the point of all of them being in the same room at the same time? See my blog about team-based learning to learn more about using the team approach for student learning. Principle three – encourage active learning. I always remember the saying that learning is not a spectator sport. From day one, engage students in course content through writing, discussion, application, etc. They learn more by doing. Principle four is to give prompt feedback. I’m reminded of faculty who talk about students who do poorly on an end-of-semester research paper. When I ask them what writing assignments came before the research paper, usually there were none. We need to give students the opportunity to practice skills that we want them to develop and give them prompt feedback so they can improve over the course the semester. Okay, principle five is time on task, which is related to principle four. Time management for students can be challenging, and we can help them by giving and adhering to deadlines and modeling good time management skills ourselves. Principle six is to communicate high expectations. Expect more, and we will get it, expect less, and we will get that too! Set expectations on the first day of class, it’s a good way to create a community of learning. Principle seven…respect diverse talents and ways of learning. I think we realize that students are different. We can teach two sections of the same course back-to-back and the class sessions will go completely different. We need to be flexible and adjust our teaching to accommodate students so that we accomplish what we set out to do.
UF Center for Instructional Technology and Training. (2012). Chickering and Gamson 4 rules for undergraduate education. Retrieved from http://citt.ufl.edu/tools/chickering-and-gamson-7-rules-for-undergraduate-education/.
UNC Charlotte Center for Teaching and Learning. (2013). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. Retrieved from http://teaching.uncc.edu/articles-books/best-practice-articles/instructional-methods/7-principles.
It’s almost that time again – the first day of class. I have sometimes struggled with what to do the first day; do I dive right in or just cover the syllabus and let the students go? The literature tells us that the first day of class is important, if not critical, to the success of a course and the students. The first day sets the tone because students form their opinion about the instructor and the course in the first few minutes. So what are the best practices for the first day?
To create a community of learning from the start, make the students feel welcome, set clear expectations for the students, discuss the goals and student learning outcomes of the course, and engage the students in content. Okay, let’s talk about tips for each of these. To welcome students, get to the classroom early and greet students as they arrive. Start class on time (this conveys that punctuality and class time are important) and introduce yourself. Next, talk to the students about your expectations and details about the course. Students need to understand the goals of the course, what they will learn, how they will learn it, and how they will be assessed. They also need to know about your attendance policy, late work policy, and behavior expectations (cell phones off?). Sometime during that first class meeting, engage the students in an activity or two. Engaging students right away delivers the message that they will be involved in the course, not just spectators.
What are your first day of class best practices? Feel free to share them!
University of Nebraska-Lincoln. (2013). The first day of class. Retrieved from http://www.unl.edu/gtahandbook/first-day-class.
Weimer, M. (2013). First day of class activities that create a climate for learning. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/first-day-of-class-activities-that-create-a-climate-for-learning/.