Think back to courses or workshops you really liked or didn’t like.
How did those courses start on the first day? Were you confident in the instructors ability to teach the course? Did you feel like the instructor was enthusiastic about the course and invested in the students outcomes? Was it clear what you were going to be learning? Were you excited to get the chance to be learning about those things? Or did you leave that first day thinking the instructor was uninterested, that you weren’t the students they wanted to be teaching or you had no idea what the course was supposed to be about?
I imagine that your impression on that first day matched that of the rest of the workshop or the course. We don’t usually think explicitly about introductions, but they set the tone for the workshop and the path for learner outcomes.
This is particularly important when we have just two days, and no time to correct over a semester long course. Also, in Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry we’re teaching not only a set of skills, but at least as importantly we’re trying to give learners the confidence to use these tools and learn more on their own. Students should leave feeling excited and empowered, rather than overwhelmed or not capable. It’s up to you as an instructor to empower your students - to make them feel like they can learn these new things and go on to use it in their work and even learn more. It is therefore important to set a positive and welcoming environment for the workshop and that starts with the introduction. Also it is possible to help overcome stereotype threat in the introduction.
The other thing that’s great about having a planned introduction, is that it helps you as an instructor be less nervous. Even if you’ve taught a lot before each workshop is new and it’s a new group. Having a planned introduction helps get you started and knowing what you’ll say. So even in the face of early technical issues, you can have a chance to reset and get going on something you’re comfortable and ready with.
Things here are just slight revisions of information from Carnegie Melon Eberly Center Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation materials http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/teach/firstday.html
After the introduction students should:
The instructor should:
To meet these objectives an introduction should:
First impressions can be long-lasting, and they are usually based on a thin slice of behavior. Before you even start teaching, your students will have already made some decisions about you, so it is important to understand what those impressions are based on and how to manage them.
Your attire. Research shows that clothing affects several kinds of judgments people make, including but not limited to, credibility, likability, dominance, kindness, and empathy (Raiscot, 1986; Morris et al., 1996). More formal attire communicates expertise and confidence, less formal attire communicates approachability. Usually, it is easier to relax a more formal impression into a more relaxed one than the other way around. These considerations are likely to be particularly relevant for young instructors who are concerned about establishing themselves as authoritative.
The physical environment. Students can make decisions about what kind of course yours will be by the way the chairs are arranged. Rows signify a more formal environment, while circles or u-shapes imply a more informal atmosphere, with more expectations of student participation. The words on the board also indicate how interesting the course is likely to be. In addition to the course information, consider having a thought-provoking question displayed as they arrive.
Your use of the few minutes before class. Greeting the students as they enter the classroom communicates approachability. Frantically arriving right on time or even late communicates disorganization, and so on.
Your introduction should be succinct, but make sure to cover certain key areas. These questions should help you decide what to say:
What characteristics do you want to convey about yourself? Among other things, you probably want the students to get a sense of your qualifications for teaching the course, how formal/informal you want to be, and how available you will be to the students. You want to demonstrate that you’re qualified, but that you share the same challenges as the students, so you remain accessible and not too much of an ‘expert’ who has entirely different considerations than they do.
What will you need to say to convey those characteristics? Consider talking about your research and computational interests as they relate to the workshop, in order to establish yourself as an authority, and to make to workshop more relevant.
Why are you teaching a Software or Data Carpentry workshop? Why are you an instructor? What’s motivating you to be there today? One reason might be that you took a workshop and saw how valuable these skills were in your own work and wanted to share this information with others. Convey your enthusiasm for being there.
What should you be careful not to say? Students do not need to know everything about you. In particular, it is not helpful to say you’ve never taught the course before, or that it is your least favorite course to teach, or to disclose any irrelevant personal information that can undermine you in the eyes of your students.
This is probably the most important objective. Clearly laying out expectations starts to orient students toward the kind of effort, learning, performance and classroom behaviors you expect from them, and it helps them use their time productively.
Describe the prerequisites so that students will know what information the instructors are assuming they know. For Data Carpentry no prior computational experience is required. Expectations vary for Software Carpentry workshops, and sometimes there is no particular set of expectations, but convey if there are.
Highlight main aspects of the schedule.
Communicate the workshop structure to the students so they will understand the decisions that have made in designing the workshop and the reasons why they were made. In particular, make sure to highlight the learning objectives and the hands on instructional strategies that SWC and DC use, the workshop policies, and the rationale for the structure and the policies, and the reasons for choosing to use CC-BY materials.
Explain your expectations for student behavior including expectations for:
Share some advice for success in your course (give it a try!) and let them know you are confident in their success as long as they put in the required effort.
The classroom is a social environment, so it is helpful to start the social dynamics in a productive way.
Icebreakers raise the energy levels and get students comfortable so that they will be ready to focus on the material, especially if you want to foster a collaborative environment where students will have to work in groups or dialogue with each other. Icebreakers work even better when they allow students to get to know each other in the context of the course material.
Have everyone turn to a partner and introduce themselves with their name, one word about their research ‘microbes’, ‘dogs’, ‘vectors’, ‘stars’ and a thing they’re proud of that they made. What they made could be a bookshelf, a curry, a 3D plot, a piece of software, their bed this morning, just something they did that they’re proud of. Studies have shown that encouraging people to think about their characteristics, skills, values, or roles that they value or view as important can help reduce the effects of stereotype threat. (We have no actual evidence this particular exercise helps, but it is along these lines)
The way you engage students at the beginning sends powerful messages about the level of involvement and interaction you expect from them.
Since these workshops are hands on don’t spend a lot of the time at the beginning lecturing. Get in to introductions and interactions right away. You don’t want students to think they just have to listen in the course.
Also establish a culture of feedback. Let students know you are interested in how they experience the course and in any suggestions they have. Let them know you will do formal early course evaluations, but that they should feel free to give you constructive feedback, even anonymously. They can do this in particular with minute cards. You might not adopt every suggestion they have but you will listen and consider them. This starts to create a partnership in learning.
This objective stems directly from the second overarching goal for the first day of class.
You will already have information on their skill level from the pre-assessment survey. You don’t want to necessarily take the time to go around the room asking everyone why they’re motivated to be there (although you might, especially if it’s a new version of a course), but you could ask them to write it on a card and have them hand it in at the break.
One side of the card could be ‘why are you motivated to be here?’ and the other could be ‘what do you expect to get out of the workshop?’
Decide what to do about different/inadequate prior knowledge. If this is a workshop where a certain knowledge is required (such as an advertised advanced workshop), decide in advance how you will handle a range of skill sets. You might tell them they cannot take the workshop, or that they must work through certain sections on their own.
They’re already at the workshop, so it might seem unnecessary to motivate them to be there, but it is a great chance to stimulate interest about the workshop and to activate relevant prior knowledge students have about the material.
Let them know about any logistics for the days - lunch times, breaks, accessibility, etc.