Sure, you played icebreakers on the first day of class, but how well do you really feel like you know your students?

Although it might seem like a daunting task, getting to know your students’ motivations, interests, and prior knowledge can help you create a classroom environment that is more engaged.

Students have many different reasons for taking your class, and the more you know about why they are there, the more easily you’ll be able to tap into their inherent motivation to learn. Research indicates that when students feel that their instructors have taken the time to get to know them, they report a greater sense of connectivity with their instructors, which then translates into improved student evaluations of teaching (Steven A. Meyer, “Do your students care that you care about them? College Teaching (2009) 57.4: 205-210).

1. Integrate brief reflective writing exercises

If you want your students to make connections between their learning and their own experiences and prior knowledge, they’ll need to practice.

Try asking them, either in class or as a short homework, to write brief reflections on their learning, using the first person. You’ll need to give them a short prompt, preferably one that is connected to your student learning outcomes. Ask specific but reflective questions, such as:

  • “How would you refute this statement?”
  • “In your experience, how do you interpret this data?”
  • “How does this analysis compare to your own interpretation?”


2. Try a pre-quiz

It can be a massive time-saver if you can know how much your students know about a topic, or what their misconceptions are, before you begin introducing it. To find out what your students already know, try giving them a short quiz with questions that might appear on assessments later on in the semester.

After they take it, either in-class or online, ask them to mark which three questions they found the easiest, and which three they found the hardest (adapted from Learning Assessment Techniques).

You may wish to give students participation points for attempting the quiz, but ultimately, the exercise should be ungraded. Use the results to frame your presentation of the material, especially if you learned that the students already have a good grasp on some of the concepts.

Pro Tip! You can use the data from these quizzes as a pre-test to compare how they perform on graded assignments later in the semester. This can be an excellent way to document student learning in your course, and is a clear demonstration of your desire to create learning experiences that best support your students.


3. Get ahead of the common misconceptions about your subject

Separating fact from fiction, truth from falsehood, or even opinion from fact can be very challenging for students who are new to the subject. Try putting those options in front of your students on the first day in the form of a true/false, fact/opinion quiz.

For example, in an introductory survey course on the history of the Middle East, the instructor wrote down 10 short scriptural quotations and had the students indicate whether or not they thought the quotation was from the Qur’an or the Bible. Students made their selections anonymously, submitted their answers, and then the class went through each option and discussed their answers. Students had lively discussions about their choices, but it turned out that all of the quotations presented were actually from the Qur’an. The instructor used this exercise as an opportunity to demonstrate the ways in which people make assumptions about religious traditions that they may not be familiar with.

In a large class, put a controversial or potentially misleading statement up on the screen and use polling tools to get an immediate answer. In a smaller class, you can pass out a handout with the statements and have students anonymously mark their answers and turn them in. You can then see where common misconceptions may lie and spend time in class reviewing the statements as an introductory lecture.

The Pew Research Center has a quiz about fact and opinion in news statements that is a good example of this technique at work.


4. Create a video get-to-know-you introduction

Using the video capture tool in Canvas can be a great way for you to get to know your students, students get to know you, and students get to know each other! The video could be as simple as asking students to say their name or preferred name, their major, why they are taking your class and maybe some fun facts about them.

For instructors, you have the opportunity to share why you are passionate about the course, your research interests, and any other information that will give your students a glimpse at who you are and what they might expect in your course.

Here are some other reasons why you should consider having video introductions for your class:

  1. It is easy to do.
  2. The video can be reviewed at any time and as many times as you need to get the information to stick.
  3. It can help you learn how to pronounce a student’s name correctly.
  4. It can help build community within your class.
  5. You have control over creating a positive first impression.


5. Try using a survey tool

Creating a survey can be a good way to quickly and easily collect information about your students. Using either a Google Form or a Canvas survey will do the trick. Keep the survey short and sweet—you don’t need to know everything!

Here are some questions you might want to consider for the form:

  • What has been your favorite course so far at UD and why?
  • When you aren’t in class, what is one way that you like to spend your time?
  • What is something that an instructor has done that made you feel supported in a course?

Need help? Faculty Commons Partners are here to assist! Give us a call at (302)831-0640 or stop by 116 Pearson Hall, Monday through Friday, 8:30 am – 4:30 pm. 

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