Starting a New Semester

COMMUNICATION An e-mail sent to your enrolled students a few days before the first official day of class doesn't take a lot of time but it can serve several purposes, ranging from helping students have the permission forms they will need early in the course to surveying them about prior knowledge of the material.

SYLLABUS CONSTRUCTION  Philosophy about how to construct and what to include in your course syllabus run the gamut from a very detailed agreement with students to those that are more open-ended and flexible. Here are some resources:

Syllabus Writing, Revising from Hawai'i Pacific University

Missouri S&T instructors are encouraged to include information about the following items on their syllabi:

For more information, contact the Office of Undergraduate Studies at 341-7276 or go to the Quick Links for Faculty on the UGS website: http://ugs.mst.edu/  

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY  Page 30 of the Student Academic Regulations handbook describes the student standard of conduct and offers descriptions of academic dishonesty including cheating, plagiarism or sabotage. Additional guidance for faculty, including the University's Academic Dishonesty Procedures, is available here at the Undergraduate Studies web pages on Academic Integrity. 

Here's an academic integrity and behavior agreement you can glean ideas from, provided by Dr. Bethany Stone, teaching professor of biological sciences at UM-Columbia (reprinted with permission.)

THE FIRST DAY OF CLASS  Here are 10 tips to setting expectations on the first day of class, provided by Dr. Delaney R. Kirk, professor of management at the University of South Florida (ret):

  • Decide on your policies and expectations for the class. Determine what you are willing to enforce for the semester and communicate these on the syllabus and in person. "Behavior that is rewarded tends to be repeated." Be sure that you don't reward inappropriate behavior by ignoring it or by not enforcing your own policies.
  • Think about what to wear and how you want your students to address you. Impression management counts.
  • Sell your class. You want your students to be excited about course content. Probably best not to give the syllabus and leave. Also, don't just lecture on Chapter 1. What activity can you do that will give them a feel for the class and make them want to come back?
  • Establish your credibility. Share information about your past experience. Tell stories.
  • Explain why you decided to go into teaching. Show your enthusiasm for the class. Tell them why you like teaching this particular course. This helps the students to see you as a person, not just their professor.
  • Find out about your students. Ask questions about majors, past work experiences, where they are from ... start learning their names. Don't use the excuse that you're not good at learning names. You are expecting them to learn your material. It's only fair that we also show that we can learn something that might be difficult for us.
  • Illustrate what you will be doing the rest of the semester. If you will be using cases, do a short case the first day. If you will use teams, then do a team exercise.
  • Give an assignment that is due the next class period. This could be a short paper, a reading (build in some type of accountability such as a quiz), math problems, or internet research. Take up and grade. (It does not have to be many points, but this illustrates your expectations that the students will do the work assigned.)
  • Get student feedback. Do a one minute paper at end of class. Ask them what other questions about the course they have.
  • Have fun!

Some more suggestions for the first day:

Twenty Ways to Make Lecture More Participatory from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching & Learning at Harvard University

Developing rapport with students early on -- if you have a large lecture class, consider forming a steering committee of diverse students who represent the class' needs and can give input to the instructor periodically.

Learning student names -- Here's an idea you may be able to adapt according to your interests: One faculty member at UM-Columbia enjoys learning about the different place names of Missouri, so he brings his place name book with him the first day of class, and asks students where they are from. As the majority of students will be from Missouri, he can tell them a little-known fact about their town and also connect a face with a name ... and a place name!

Communicate student expectations (and what they can expect from their instructor)

Develop buy-in to active learning strategies with the following questions on the first day:
What is the most important goal of your college education and, therefore, of this course?
A. Acquiring information (facts, principles, concepts)
B. Learning how to use information and knowledge in new situations
C. Developing skills to learn after college

Which of these three learning goals to you feel that you could most confidently make progress on by yourself, outside of class?
A. Acquiring information (facts, principles, concepts)
B. Learning how to use information and knowledge in new situations
C. Developing skills to learn after college

Which of these three learning goals do you feel that you could most confidently make progress on by working in class with peers and the instructor?
A. Acquiring information (facts, principles, concepts)
B. Learning how to use information and knowledge in new situations
C. Developing skills to learn after college

Adapted from "First-Day Questions for the Learner-Centered Classroom" Sept. 2008, National Teaching and Learning Forum