Even among experienced instructors the first day of class can create feelings of nervousness; it is important to know this nervousness is felt by both instructors and students because it is a natural human reaction to the unknown and the beginning of a new class holds so many unknowns for both instructors and students.
To help strip away some of the unknowns and begin the process of building a positive learning environment there are a number of things you, as the instructor, can do.
Going over the syllabus
The single most important thing you can do is hand out your course syllabus and walk students through it so there is clarity for everyone about all the key elements of the course including your expectations. An understanding of the syllabus will help to alleviate students’ nervousness.
Other activities for the first day of class
- Tell your students something about yourself and make eye contact with them; if you are nervous, admit it - many of them will be nervous, too.
- If the class is small enough, have the students introduce themselves aloud. Icebreaker activities may also be appropriate. If the class is too big for individual introductions, ask them to introduce themselves to a neighbour. Some instructors also have their students provide information about themselves on a 3" x 5" card.
- In general, maintain a conversational tone and show the students you are approachable and knowledgeable. Impart on them the importance of the class to the larger context of your disciple; you found it interesting enough to do a graduate degree in the subject after all.
Strategies to engage your students right away
- Discuss some of the current issues or research in the field. A major priority for the University of Saskatchewan is to make research-based learning the standard. Educating students about research in your field and conveying how dynamic the discipline is will help to move us toward that goal.
- Give a short or light-hearted quiz to gauge class knowledge on the subject.
- Have students discuss amongst themselves their interests and concerns for the class and then come back together as a group and share these thoughts, writing them on the board as you go.
- Have students use free-association with one of the key words in the course title and call out words they think of or associate with the word. Write these on the board, and discuss them.
- Have the students take part in an activity that exemplifies what a "normal" class will look like.