Tuesday, September 6, 2016

5 Tips for Building Community on the First Day

By Julie PhelpsContributing Editor, Valencia College

Photo Credit: Victor Björkund/Flickr
Recently, I reported for jury duty the Friday before classes started, and was surprised by the judge’s negative reactions to my statement that I wanted to be in the classroom on the first day of classes. I then realized that there is a common misconception that the first day of class is a wasted day.

Instructors should use the first day of class to establish class tone and build community for the entire semester.

Building a sense of classroom community or belonging has important ramifications, including students’ academic self-efficacy and intrinsic motivation, as well as perceptions towards the instructor’s openness, encouragement and organization.

The 2016 Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) results about student connections with faculty, other students, and college resources may surprise you. Of the students surveyed in the CCSSE, only about 50% of students discuss grades or assignments with their instructor, and the same amount worked with other students during class. Approximately 40% admitted that they never discussed class content with their instructors outside of class.

To overcome these concerning statistics, use the first day of class to help establish a classroom community that supports the learning environment for the whole semester.

Here are 5 tips on how to build community on the first day of class:

1. Learn names. Students would rather be a name than a number. On large note cards, have students write the name they prefer to be called on both of the showing sides (large enough to be read from anywhere in the room). You can even take photos of students with their cards to review for the next class.

2. Let them get to know their professor. Students make assumptions about you before they get to your class. It is important for students to establish connections with their professor. I make an activity out of it. Share three interesting facts about yourself with your students: “You wouldn’t know it by looking at me, but…” This helps to humanize you and make you more approachable.

3. Get to know your students. Many instructors collect information about students on 3x5 cards: name, year, most recent math course, etc. Have students also include three interesting facts about themselves. Pair students and have them introduce each other to the rest of the class with one of these facts. This helps students better connect with others in the classroom.

4. Give students ownership in their learning. After sharing your expectations for the students about the course, put them in small groups to discuss their prior learning experiences. Have each group suggest one or two techniques that think would help with their learning. Try to incorporate some of the stronger techniques into your teaching.

5. Homework Syllabus Quiz and Resource Hunt. Questions should require students to read the syllabus and explore campus resources to answer the questions in their own words. One question that I always include is to get the name and contact information for at least 3 other students. This practice helps to overcome the low number of students using these services and resources as noted in the CCSSE report.

Related Links: 
Freeman, Tierra M., Anderman Lynley H., and Jensen Jane M. "Sense of Belonging in College Freshmen at the Classroom and Campus Levels." The Journal of Experimental Education 75, no. 3 (2007): 203-20. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20157456.

Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. (2005). How college affects students: A third decade of research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

NSSE. National Survey of Student Engagement. (2015). Engagement Insights: Survey Findings on the Quality of Undergraduate Education—Annual results 2015. Bloomington: Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research.