The first day of class is a terrific opportunity to motivate students, demonstrate why your subject matters, create a greater sense of wonder, and surprise students with how your class might change how they look at the world. All of us want class time for what really matters, so here is a way to reclaim your first day.
Do NOT hand out a syllabus. Instead post the syllabus on your course website, in your LMS or in an email you will send later in the day. If you simply must distribute hard copies, then leave by the door at the END of class. Students are shopping the first week, so if you hand them a syllabus, they will immediately look for how much work you are demanding. You don’t have to encourage this behavior. Don’t distract them on the first day.
We are constantly telling students that this is not high school, and that in college they will be required to manage more for themselves, and then we spend the first day of class making sure we read the syllabus to them.
Instead, try an online SYLLABUS QUIZ that is due before the next class. You can do this online in your LMS. You could even use a polling system like Socrative. The important part is that you point them to what really matters in your syllabus: What are the learning outcomes? What will studying for this class be like? What will some of the benefits be? They will figure out for themselves when the papers are due and how many tests there are. (Ok, you might direct them to the late policy in your quiz.)
The benefits of this strategy are many:
1. You free up the first class period for MUCH more important work. Play a game. Do something dramatic. Inspire them with a great example. Just have fun.
2. You will get them in the habit of checking their campus email. You don’t care if they have 6 other emails. But if you tell them this email will be used all semester long for important information –like links to the syllabus and tests—they will make sure they read it. If you don’t abuse this with 12 emails a day—AND you do not make announcements in class– they will read what you send.
3. You also model that class time is valuable and that class is worth attending. That person who skipped the first day, and asked his roommate to pick up an extra syllabus, will find out that class was inspiring, interesting and insightful, and that there were no notes, but the experience was important. Make your class into a gourmet meal instead of fast food: you don’t want the description to be equal or even better than the experience.
4. Students will get feedback right away. All of our research tells us that students need more low stakes assessment and more feedback. They need both nurturing/engaged professors and high standards. It has to be both. One alone does not work nearly as well. Show them immediately both that you care and that they will learn. Have fun and be passionate on the first day and then make sure the first test is hard enough that they have to think. Before the next class it is gone and you and the class more on.
So start class with only one announcement: “You will get a link to the syllabus and a syllabus quiz immediately after class. The quiz is due before the next class. I will stay after class if you have questions.” Then do what you always wish you had time to do.
You will never get this chance again.