Starting Well

in her blog, The Teaching Professor.  Her post, First Day of Class Activities that Create a Climate for Learning, suggested a process of encouraging students to think about what makes a good class.

I adopted her suggestions in two of my classes.  In each, the students quickly provided their responses to the following prompts–The Best Class Ever and The Class from Hell.  Under each type of class they listed what the professor did and what students did (obviously without identifiers).  Several noteworthy ideas appeared.

  1. The students focused more heavily on the professor’s behavior than students’ actions.  It took several prompts to get them to think about their own role in creating a positive learning environment, although once they started the ideas flowed easily.
  2. They focused more heavily on the negative than the positive.  The Class from Hell seemed to be at the fore of their thinking.  They immediately went to “death by PowerPoint”.  Disorganized and uninformed professors with poor communications skills popped right out.
  3. However, the most interesting trend to emerge was that their sense of what students do in both types of classes.  That sense seemed remarkably similar to the water cooler comments I hear from faculty.  Student engagement and discussion are valuable.  Students in the best classes are prepared and focused on what’s happening in class.  Fellow students using cell phones in class is annoying and distracting.  Class materials make sense in the context of their daily lives.

Now the hard work begins.  Can my students and I co-create the Best Class Ever?

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