None of us entered our field because we wanted to alienate students. Yet unwittingly, much of our traditional first-day agendas do just that. Reading the syllabus as a contractual obligation, warning about late work and poor attendance, and being the “sage on the stage” can create the opposite of an atmosphere that will excite students about our courses.
So just what will engage our students from the get-go? At Spartanburg Community College, new faculty watch a video called Voices of Our Students that was created by a student intern, reports Dr. Tena Long Golding. The video contains students’ perspectives about their college teachers and reveals that students describing a “great professor” use words such as honest, relatable, engaging, concerned, invested, and enthusiastic.
Students in the video also describe what makes for a “favorite professor.” They list the following desirable traits:
- are consistent and predictable
- believe in students’ ability to succeed
- entertain when lecturing
- help students having trouble by being available and offering feedback
- make connections between course content and the “real world”
- motivate students using a variety of methods
- open discussions after lectures
- share personal anecdotes
- view students as individuals
As we start our new academic year, perhaps we can use these student impressions to help us create more meaningful courses—and maybe even become those “favorite professors.” Below are some ways to start the new semester off on the right foot.
Offer a meaningful promise about what students will learn. Tell students what they will take away from your course. A statement such as “Everything you read and write about in this course will be relevant to your futures as business professionals” will likely grab their attention.
Engage the class with multimedia. Our millennial students are used to being dazzled by images on their screens. Can you create or show a short video? Play a podcast? Project photographs? You’ll wake up even the most uninterested students if you appeal to their need to view learning at least in some part as entertaining.
Demonstrate consequences of poor classroom behavior. Perhaps you can make your own cellphone go off or respond to a text message while you are speaking. While going over the syllabus, you might tell a “sad story about Missing Student” who skipped so many classes and got so hopelessly behind that she [fill in the blank.] Present your pet peeves to students in a creative way.
With a little effort and a few tweaks to the standard way of starting a new course, this may be your best year of teaching yet!
Do you have any first-day activities or strategies to engage your students? St
I pose a single question to my class for students to respond, anonymously.
What Matters Now?
In doing this I get a very good feel for what is important and what students are expecting.