Opening The Class: The "First Day"

It's the beginning of a new semester, so I've been thinking about how I should open my new classes.

Over the years, I've changed what I do for a typical "first class". When I first started teaching, I would go through the syllabus in great detail. After that (if there was time), I'd get into the material. I was never really comfortable with that approach, because it alsways seemed to suck the life out of the class. But that's what everyone around me was doing, so I figured I might as well too (insert comment about lemmings here).

But a couple of years back, I read this short piece by Robert Bruner (now Dean of UVA's Darden School of Business) titled "Opening a Course." Here's the abstract:
Professor C. Roland Christensen, once remarked that the management of beginnings and endings was among the most important, but least appreciated, professional skills. Professors are trained to focus on the substantive middle, the beef, as it were, in the intellectual burger. All too often the buns must fend for themselves. Such neglect can be costly. A faulty start to a course can create a legacy that will haunt the instructor for the rest of the course, or worse. A bad beginning makes a bad ending said Euripides. The reality is that first impressions are hugely important within the classroom. How can one get a course launched well? Several instructors shared ideas with me; their comments addressed a variety of aims and tactics.
You can read the whole thing on SSRN here. It's only a couple of pages, and well worth the time

Probably the best advice I got from the piece was that the first class
  • Should be high energy
  • Have some substance
  • Give an overview of the course
  • Set some expectations
As for how the "openings" of my new classes went, I was able to start my "traditional" class pretty well (see previous entry). Unfortunately, for my student manged investment fund class, it didn't go well - I was exhausted from my son getting me up repeatedly the night before (and the class meets at night, to boot), and a bit unfocused. So, hopefully I can salvage it next week and do a bit of a reset.

I may actually apologize to the class for being out of sorts. If nothing else, it'll surprise them...