The First Day of Class

Often, we assume that students are shopping for classes on the first day of the semester. We don’t want to do too much since other students will arrive the next session and some of the students sitting before us will not return. Yet the first day is an important opportunity to set the tone for the type of communication and thinking you expect throughout the semester and to provide an overarching vision of the course – precisely what  students might need to know in in selecting your course.

Share the course objectives – what you hope students understand or learn to do by the end of the course. Give students a “road map” of the course – where you will be taking them (and why they should come along). Share key information about the course and your expectations, but don’t go over the syllabus word for word – that can be deadly (especially for students who are having a number of first classes).

Consider what is most important to you and work that into your first session. Here are some possibilities – select what makes sense for you and your course:

  • Engage students in a discussion of a question or idea that demonstrates the kind of thinking that is important in the course
  • If connecting with your students is important, share something about yourself (perhaps your intellectual journey) and ask them to introduce themselves
  • If having students connect with one another and respond to one another is important, help them learn each others names and something about each other
  • If you plan to use discussions, have students start talking on the first day
  • If you plan to use groups frequently, put students in groups on the first day
  • If you plan to use extensive writing, have some kind of short reflective writing activity
  • If you want the students to be in charge of their own learning, start with an activity where they are the experts, and cannot rely on you for information.
  • If you want students to be prompt, start and finish the class on time

And also, whether or not you are trying something new, expect some awkwardness. After all, it is the first day for everyone.

Further Reading: See the chapter “How Do They Treat Their Students” in Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do (Harvard Press, 2004), available in our library.

Blended Learning Showcase

11147846_1645860968988389_1051175574692630635_oOctober 29th at 4:30 P.M. West Lecture Hall

Come hear how faculty across the Five Colleges are using blended learning in their teaching practices.

Presenters include our own Alicia Ellis!

For more information, visit

The Hampshire Learning Project

HLP_TrailerThe Hampshire Learning Project (HLP) is an internally funded research project designed to determine the ways that the Hampshire experience contributes to students’ initiative, creativity, appetite for ongoing learning, and desire to contribute to society.

The Hampshire Learning Project has created a short video series to present some of our recent research findings to faculty, staff, and other members of the campus community. The series includes a two-minute overview video and four in-depth videos on important themes that have emerged: 1) advising, 2) critical reflection, 3) intellectual community, and 4) outside-of-classroom experiences.

The findings provide insights into student experiences and highlight areas that work well for students and those where students struggle.  We hope that the Hampshire community can draw upon these research findings to enhance and improve student experiences across multiple areas.

If you have practices that support students along these dimensions (e.g. creating intellectual communities through cohort advising; reflecting on learning each semester, etc.), consider making a short video on your practice to share. Contact the CTL at to schedule your video production.

Back to Eval Writing?

Back to eval writing? Check out our resource page on writing student evaluations (under “teaching resources”). There are resources that might be helpful. In particular, check out the work done by some of your colleagues developing guidelines for writing Division II evaluations. It grows out of an evaluation analysis workshop in which they learned that many evaluations were descriptive and lacked evaluative comments that help students know what they are doing well and what they need to work on next.

Creating Visual Models for Learning

PolioIn Megan Dobro’s Virology class, students chose a “pet virus” that they will study in depth for the semester. The first assignment was to create a physical model of their virus. She has no artistic requirements; it just needs to be accurate. Megan gave ideas such as using clay, paper mache, found objects, or origami using online guides. Students presented their models to the class and showed how they represented the virus’s symmetry, structural components, and maybe dynamic processes. More important than the product, the process of creating a seemingly silly model got students to think more deeply. Looking only at two-dimensional pictures of viruses, students may not have realized that the viral shell has a complex, beautiful symmetry. Or that there are specific ways each viral component fits together, and that tells you something about which pieces rely on each other. Or that viruses are relatively simple particles and it’s amazing they wreak so much havoc on the world. Students might spend 15 seconds looking at a picture, but in the process of making a virus, they take time with their virus, studying all of the shapes and possible ways it can be built and taken apart. They start to ask questions that introduce advanced concepts. See the results of this year’s class models.

Websites/blogs for Div II and III students

There are 2 new resources for your Div II and III students that bring together resources, tips, event announcements, and reminders. Have your students visit the sites at:


First year students have the new programs page (

There are prizes for students who visit. If you have tips you would like to post on the Div 2 and 3 sites, send them on to me at

Transformative Speaking Program Resources

Faculty HandoutThe Transformative Speaking Program has resources available to you and your students this semester. Please visit the program’s Moodle page at for more information about the highlights listed below:

1. You can request that a peer mentor meet with your students to work on developing skills for class discussion or presentations.

2. You can request that a team of peer mentors lead a speaking workshop for your students, during or outside of your class time.

3. Students can self-select to meet one-on-one with a peer speaking mentor to work on their general speaking skills or a particular discussion or presentation.

4. You can nominate students to apply to work as peer mentors for next year (application deadline Oct 17 and rolling thereafter).

5. You can request that a peer mentor be dedicated to work exclusively with you and students in your 100-level spring 2015 course in any discipline.

Questions? Contact Laura Greenfield at

Students and Office Hours

Karen Koehler sent me a link to an article from Inside Higher Ed about a faculty member who banned student emails unless they were emailing to schedule an appointment with her. On first glance, it seemed drastic and un-Hampshire-like to Karen (and to me). But the purpose was to get students to use office hours. We do want students to come see us, to discuss their ideas, to get help if they need it, etc.

I am left with these questions:

  • Does email interfere with the face-to-face interactions?
  • When do we want students to come to our office hours and when would we rather a quick email?
  • Do students understand what office hours are for? (someone told me that they had a student who thought “office hours” meant faculty were working in their office and could not be disturbed)
  • Are there other ways that are less drastic to get students to come to talk to us?
  • When do we want them talking to each other rather than coming to us?
  • What should a student try on their own before coming to us?
  • How do we communicate these ideas to students?

Clearly, there is no one rule about office hours and office hour use. In addition to varied needs of students, we as faculty will have different wishes for how we communicate with students.

If you would like your students to use your office hours more effectively, consider the kinds of assignments you might give your students – maybe particularly starting with tutorial students – that help them to understand your role as a mentor and that gets them to work together. For example:

  • Give an early writing assignment and have students sign up for office hours to discuss their paper with you
  • Have students peer edit their papers and then bring the revision to you to discuss in office hours
  • Have a specific type of communication that your require in person (e.g. No excuses for late assignments by email – you must come talk to me to discuss the work and negotiate a new deadline)

What Karen shared is that she has a project in her new NEH “Enduring Questions” course that she is teaching next semester for new Div II students where the students have to pick an object in the library, (book, film, photograph), find a faculty person they think would be interested in it, and interview them (which of course means finding their office hours…)

Be creative and send your ideas to