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Monday, August 24, 2015

The First Day of Class: A Once-a-Semester Opportunity

Dr. Maryellen Weimer, professor emerita at Penn State Berks writes, "There’s only one first day of class. Here are some ideas for taking advantage of opportunities that are not available in the same way on any other day of the course."

Photo: The Teaching Professor Blog

  • It’s students’ first introduction to the course content. Catalog descriptions of courses may be accurate, but they aren’t all that good at conveying why the content is important, relevant, and useful; why students just may find it interesting; and why a few in the past have actually fallen in love with it. A good introduction provides a bit of background; it builds connections by identifying shared experiences and common interests. The details offered in a good introduction motivate continued conversation. 
  • The first day gives you the chance to explain why this course and the content of this field matter to you. Of all the potential majors, you chose one in this field—how did that happen? Did you choose well? Why?
The Teaching Professor Blog

  • Most courses develop important skills—concrete ones like how to calculate the Doppler shift and less specific ones like how to evaluate evidence or construct a persuasive argument. The first day is a good time to let students know what they will be able to do—or do better—as a consequence of this course. Too often we focus the conversation on what the course covers and what students will know by the end of the term. That’s important, but we shouldn’t leave out how the course develops skills—some of which students will use for the rest of their lives. 
  • Courses have been known to change lives. Most don’t, but why not introduce the possibility on the first day? Adult educators call it transformative learning. It happens when we learn something that not only changes how we think, but also changes what we do; indeed, who we are. Sometimes these big changes occur incrementally; other times they hit like lightning—with a burst of light and a thunderous revelation. It’s been known to happen in all types of courses and with all types of students. 

Source: Faculty Focus