I believe that the first day of class is an incredible opportunity for instructors in helping to set the tone of the class. Although reading the syllabus can be helpful on this, I try to take it one layer deeper by using the syllabus as a talking point not a script. Specifically, I try to explain how the course goals link with my broader teaching goals, give students the keys to their own education via explicit dates for all assignments, and most importantly it sets the expectation of an inclusive classroom. In setting the tone I believe that the last item on the previous list is the most important. As I state in my syllabus, I believe that students don’t necessarily come to the university with a love of learning; thus, if I’m to inspire this love in my students, I need to create a space where the students and I can have an open and honest dialogue. Creating space for all individuals allows an honestness that underpins the energy I bring to education.
To achieve my other teaching goal of helping students understand their own meta-cognition I explain the purpose of a staple of my teaching: end of class quizzes and group work. Both of these teach students in a low stakes classroom environment how to think about their own learning. Again, this links back to setting the tone. On the first day of class I explain why we will be doing end of class quizzes, that is, to help students use the testing effect to increase their cognition as well as identify what I think are important topics which usually show up on exams. The in-class group work is explained as helping students practice the skill of self and group explanation. For instance, I ask students to do a version of that week’s homework problem in class, where they can ask me and fellow students if they are going about solving it correctly.
The area that I’d most like to continue exploring the efficacy of is in the flipped classroom model. As I state in my teaching philosophy the abstract concepts of economics often result in students disengaging from both the material and the class. In recent classes I’ve implemented pre-class quizzes to help get students thinking about the material coupled with a grade boosting incentive to encourage class discussion, especially in the last 30 minutes of a lecture. I’ve had mixed successes, but I feel this hybridized model allows for me to reach students of multiple learning types without disadvantaging one student group.
I believe that setting the right tone, coupled with giving students skills to be successful in class can help students find their point of clarity; that is, where a subject goes from being a class that they take, to a class that they engage with on a deeper level. In this journey of education I am teaching students economics as much as they are teaching me how to be a better facilitator of learning.