With the spring semester having already started this week, it was an opportune time to consider what to tell students on the first day of class. Many teachers use the first meeting to pitch the course to students and explain to them what to expect throughout the semester. Each instructor will enforce a different set of policies, require a different set of books, and assign their own assignments. As Fordham students take about four to five courses each semester, it can be an overwhelming amount of information to process this early in the term.
In the past year, I’ve simplified what I tell my students on the first day of class. Instead of reviewing the syllabus, which can be quite long, I try to answer the three most pressing questions students might have about the course. Based on my observations as a teacher and my own experience as a student, I have found that students are most interested in three things on day one:
- They want to know what books they need to buy. They are interested in where to get them, and how much it is going to cost them. I tell them to use their Internet skills to find the books. I don’t care if they get ebook versions, although I warn them against the Coursesmart titles because those are functionally terrible and are far too expensive. I also don’t care if they get the books from somewhere other than the campus bookstore because those are usually run by awful companies.
- They want to know what topics we will be covering. I usually start with a one-sentence version of the course description and then list a few major themes we will be covering. For example, this semester’s electronic media course covers three media: radio, television, and digital. I then summarize the course schedule and show how we will cover each media and, ultimately, how they converge.
- They want to know about the assignments and the exams. How intense is the workload for this course? Will there be weekly assignments or just a few big ones? How many papers will there be and how long are those papers? To address their concerns about the exams, I usually give students sample questions from the final exam.
In addition to review these three topics on the first day of class, I also format the main navigation area of each course website, such as this one to include the books, the weekly topics, and the assignments and exams. It hopefully keeps things simple and also helps students decide whether my course is for them.