The First 60 Minutes

Tips & Tricks to Starting Your Course Off on the Right Foot

One of the most significant challenges we face is how do we get our students to critically engage with the subject matter from the beginning of the term. CCIT is working on compiling a list of “best-practices” associated with the “First 60 Minutes” of class.

We want to know what you do to get your course started off right. The list, provided below, is a compilation of ideas furnished by instructors. (But it’s just a start.) Our goal is to grow this list. So please don’t hesitate to share your ideas with us.

Students falling asleep in class

Imagine this...

So, you’ve designed a fantastic syllabus, featuring ideas you are sure will generate great discussions. Maybe you are engaging in subject matter that is currently in vogue in your field, or subject matter that poses a particular problem in your field, or subject matter that is important and time-honored material to engage within your field – any way you dice it, you’re pumped to get the party started!

On first day of class, you pass out your syllabus and go over the list of readings and as your excitement mounts you look up to see your students’ reactions… and instead of delighted grins, you see confused expressions, blank stares, maybe even a few very concerned looks. They have no idea what you are talking about. They have never heard of any of this. (Source: Cerridwen’s Cauldron Blog, 10-18-2011)

Tips and Tricks / Best Practices

Take a look at the following Tips and Tricks to Starting Your Course Off on the Right Foot.

1. Get the students THINKING right away!
  • Start with this question…
  • Example: “What is the subject of this class?” Find out what THEY think your course is about. It may shock you to find out how different your perceptions are.
  • Use this discussion as a tool – this is your chance to make sure everyone is on the same page.
  • Find out what their goals are.
  • Why are they taking this class?
  • Learn more about what is motivating them to be there.
  • Take some notes – this information may be needed to “reengage” later in the semester.
 2. Have a “Getting Started” plan
  • Have an outline of what you would like to review.
  • Share that outline with the students.  Check sheets and outlines work wonders.
 3. Introduce yourself
  • This step is often overlooked.
  • Take some time with this step.
  • Share more than just your name and background.
  • Talk about why you are teaching this course.
  • Discuss your teaching style.
4. Building Community (Making the Most of Class Introductions)
  • I have the students introduce themselves and share with me their expectation of the class.
  • In the general core classes like ENG 121, students may find that they will soon develop “friends” or study buddies if they find students in like majors, and may soon find that they are seeing the same faces in future courses.
  • This is maybe where carpooling plans can be made, especially with the price of gas these days!
5. What “special” do they need for this course?
  • Do they need a lab coat, special software, high speed internet, headphones, etc.?
  • Clearly review these materials, as well as, how to procure them.
  • This will help to take the excuses out of the student’s hands.
  • In week two, you may want to conduct a “materials audit.” This will insure that everyone has what they need.
6. Dissect and Discuss the Syllabus.
  • Many of us hand out the syllabus and assume the students know how to use it. (It’s possible that they may not.)
  • If presented properly, they can learn that the syllabus is an advance organizer for their thinking and engagement with the subject matter over the term.
  • This MIGHT smooth the way for much more productive reading and class discussions – and better thinking on papers.
 7. Tell them “How to Pass” and “How to Fail” your course.
  • Be clear about your expectations.
  • Outline what they will need to do to pass. This is more than just an assignments review.  This is a skills review.
  • Talk to them about preparing for tests, how to study, and the importance of reading and note-taking.
  • Also – tell them how to fail! Based on your experience, talk to them about the actions of a failing student.
  • Help them to learn from mistakes other students have made in the past.
8. Explain Assignments, Scoring / Grading, Rubrics.
  • Make sure they are very clear on all the deliverables.
9. Review and discuss your course structure
  • Review your Blackboard Course shell.
  • Make sure they can easily navigate it.
  • Discuss your delivery method.
  • Be sure to clarify all course expectations in this regard.
 10. Take a picture – it will last longer!
  • Here’s what I do to memorize student names and faces: I take a picture of each student who will let me, and I ask them to sign a sheet.
  • I can then match their name to their picture.
  • I’ll study the pictures and names at my leisure in my office.
  • I can stare at each student’s picture as long as necessary to memorize the face; and if two students look similar to me, I can go back and forth between their pictures to discern differences between them.
11. Help New Students Navigate the Campus.
For many students, this may be their first experience at Delaware Tech. Ask them if they know where these key services are located.  Do what you can (within reason) to help locate them.
  • Department Location
  • Bookstore
  • Security
  • Testing Center
  • Computer Labs & Help Desk
  • Registrar
  • Office Location
  • Library
  • Parking
  • Tutoring Centers
  • Financial Aid
12. How do you, as a student, get help?
  • Make sure your students know where they can get help.
  • Anticipate the struggles your students might have.
  • Prepare, in advance, check sheets and instructions on where they might find specific types of help.
13. Address the “what if I miss class” issue.
  • Manage your student’s expectations.
  • Discuss how critically important it is for students to attend class.
  • Be clear with them what you expect from them in the event of an absence.
14. Encourage them to Participate and Ask Questions.
15. Explain Academic Integrity
  • Stress the importance of Academic Integrity.
16. Teach them HOW to be a Successful Student.
  • Teach students from the beginning how to critically engage with the material.
  • Model how you want them to begin thinking about the subject matter.
  • If need be, offer a short lesson on taking notes.
17. Introduce your Online Course Resources and Materials.
  • Prepare your Blackboard course prior to the start of the semester.
  • Check for broken links or missing files.
  • Update your contact information and date restricted materials, assignments and tests.
  • Organize your course menu. Delete or hide areas of the course you will not use.
  • Let students know how often you expect them to log into their online course.
  • Set student expectations of when you will respond to emails, discussion postings, assignments.
  • Demonstrate how to send emails through Blackboard.