The first class day is as chock-full of information as any other class day in the term. I could NEVER understand professors who handed out the syllabus and then told students they were dismissed and should come back ready to learn on the second class day. That’s rude, devalues students’ time, and eliminates so many possibilities for letting students know about important information pertaining ot the course.
Like all clients who feel valued, students expect to be kept informed of key issues that might have an impact on their success. Therefore, immediately prior to your first class meeting, make yourself aware of key facts within the enrollment environment of your department’s courses. These facts include
- Number of spaces available in your course (and in other sections of it).
- Class sections that might have been canceled because of low enrollment or other factors,
- New class sections that might have been created because of unexpectedly high interest,
- Drop-add dates and procedures for making schedule changes.
As you approach the closure of your initial class meeting, you should make sure that students are aware of this information. It is quite possible that they, or their friends, have had changes in their schedules mandated by various factors. Presenting the latest information not only can give you an opportunity to recruit an additional few students (if you need to) but also demonstrates your concern for the best interest of your currently-enrolled students. Consistently demonstrating increased enrollment in your course sections during the add-drop period may reflect well on you to your department chair and dean.
Reassuring Students about Their Decision
Whenever students start a new class, they typically experience a condition psychologists call “cognitive dissonance.” This is a state of conflict that arises from trying to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time. In this mind state, students, like those who make any big decision in life, question the wisdom of their decisions. Tuition, fees for textbooks and other materials, opportunity costs, and other factors become the focus of their evaluation. Marketing professionals refer to cognitive dissonance as “buyer’s remorse,” and they invest a great deal of time and money in reassuring customers that their decisions were correct. Thus, they foster repeat business, or what higher education calls retention.
Before ending your first class meeting, briefly review with students the reasons why your course is a good investment of their time, energy, and money. Emphasize the important and relevant content they will learn, highlight the value of their peers, and share your enthusiasm for a dynamic classroom environment. Ensure that when they leave your classroom they will want to return for more. For many professors, the first class meeting is the most critical one to the retention of students throughout the term.
Assessing Students’ Understanding of the Starting Position
As students conclude their first week in your class, it is wise to assess their perceptions in an anonymous, nonthreatening manner. Doing so at this critical juncture helps you identify stumbling blocks before they can grow into large barriers later in the term, which lead to withdrawals, and most of all, reduce the success that students could otherwise achieve.
Invest two minutes to distribute 3 x 5 index cards on which students may reply anonymously to several open-ended questions, such as:
- Who was the most interesting person you met in this class?
- What things are you most looking forward to in this class?
- What concerns you about your ability to be successful in this class?
- What questions do you have that are not yet answered?
- What has surprised you most about this class so far?
Ask students to place the completed cards at a convenient spot close to the door as they exit. Wish them well. You are now off and running for the new semester, quarter, or term of your course!