First Day of Class/Getting Started

On the first day of class, a mistake many instructors make is to spend the time with students in "sit-and-listen" mode.  If you want your students to be active participants in their learning over the course of the semester, then on the very first day, set an example and engage them in an active learning activity. 

Many times students in your classes won't know each other.  Creating opportunities for peer learning begins with getting to know each other's names.  Dedicate time during the first class to learn students' names and to help them learn each other's names. 

At the appropriate time, ask students to meet another student or two and get their contact information.  Then, if they're going to miss class, they have a contact to get the notes.  Even in a large lecture setting, you can ask students to turn to a neighbor and introduce themselves.  This helps to breakdown a sense of anonymity in a large lecture setting.  Of course, make this a voluntary activity.  Students who do not wish to share their contact information are permitted to opt-out.  

In an online course, you can use a discussion board to have students introduce themselves to the class.  This breaks the isolation of an online course and begins to build a sense of community.

Acknowledge that there is some swirl during the beginning of the semester and students will continue to come and go for the first few weeks.  During this time, use a couple of minutes at the beginning of each class session for new students to introduce themselves.  This communicates a desire to create an inclusive learning environment where they're not just another number. 

Ask students to visualize their goals for the course.  On the first day of class, create a vision of the course for students by helping them clarify their personal learning outcome goals.  How will taking your course help them achieve their longer term goals?  How will this course help them move toward the life they envision for themselves in the future?

Large lecture settings have a unique set of dynamics that can be challenging, particularly scaling teaching related activities to a large number of students.  In addition to your departmental colleagues as a resource, the Office for Teaching and Learning (OTL) facilitates a faculty learning community where instructors across disciplines meet to talk about teaching in this context. 

Do you have a strategy for getting to know your students?  Try a First-Day Survey!

The first day of class is an ideal time to find out more about your students.  Using a First Day Survey helps you know more about them.  The survey can be brief and have questions that help you get to know the students and assess their prior knowledge of course content.  It can be fun and reporting some of the results back to the class helps the students learn a bit about each other.  Particularly in a commuter campus like Wayne State, using a First Day Survey begins to create a sense of community in your course.

This strategy will work in classes of all sizes, and can be adapted to what you think works best.  You can write the questions on the board and have students use their own paper.  You could distribute a worksheet with the questions and hand it out as they arrive, or you could use survey tools like Qualtrics, Canvas, or Survey Monkey.

Assure your students that their responses are confidential, however you shouldn't make it anonymous.  Knowing who said what can help you better understand each student.  Report aggregated results; this allows you to highlight themes from the entire class and to not single out individual students.

Here are some example questions you could use in the survey:

How Students Learn

  • What do you do to be successful as a learner?
  • What are your strategies when you encounter obstacles as a learner?
  • As your instructor, what can I do to help you learn?
  • What can other students do to help you learn?
  • What else do you want me to know about you as a learner?

Background & Campus Involvement

  • Where did you go to high school? Please include the name of the city or town.
  • What's your class standing (e.g., first-year, sophomore, etc.)?
  • Have you attended a higher education institution other than Wayne State? If yes, which one?
  • Do you participate in a student organization at Wayne State? Which ones?
  • Are you planning on going to FestiFall?
  • What's one question you would like to know about other students in the class?

Prior Knowledge of Course Content

  • What's one example of prior knowledge you bring to this course?
  • What's a prior experience that you think will help you in this course?
  • What are you most hoping to learn?
  • Why are you taking this course?

Download a First Day Survey template to modify and use in your courses.

Additional Resources for Getting Started:

Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education (Chickering & Gamson, 1987) describes the principles for good practice, and provides examples of each.

For more information visit the resources the OTL has to offer.