First Day Advice From the Field – O'Donnell Learn

First Day Advice From the Field

Published by Carrie O'Donnell
on Jan 22, 2020

Welcome back professors! With the start of the new term comes two things, new opportunities for learning and first day jitters. Even the seasoned professors we work with tell us they still get nervous on the first day of class. Of course, the first week is also when you’re creating a vision of what’s to come and setting expectations for classroom culture and course requirements. Engagement with your students is vital from the get-go. One of the best ways to create that is through exercises that help motivate your students and create natural interaction – with each other and with you!

Additionally, making these connections the first day will go a long way toward creating a cohesive, supportive environment in which students can best thrive. This is also the time to begin planting seeds of collaboration and teamwork. Our experts in the field suggest these six options to help break the ice with your students and get everyone off to a solid start.

1) The Story of You – Sharing a bit about why you love teaching, your journey to getting there and some of your interests outside the classroom not only helps students also see you as a person, but also creates an environment of openness. You may want to include slides, videos, even meaningful quotes – the more vibrant your story, the better.

2) The Story of Them – Divide the class into small groups (4-6 students). Ask the students to introduce themselves by sharing his or her name, hometown, major as well as one interesting or surprising fact about themselves. Then randomly ask students from each group to introduce another student to the class.

3) First Day Graffiti – Arrange five flip pads around the room, each with one of the following questions written at the top. Encourage students to tour the room, engage with each other about the questions and write their answers on the pad. Review a few answers from each question with the class, inquiring for more details where appropriate.

  • I learn best in classes where the teacher _______________.

  • Other students in the class help me learn when they ___________.

  • I am most likely to participate in class when __________.

  • It’s hard to learn in a class when _______________ happens.

  • It’s easy to learn in a class when _______________ happens.

4) Best and Worst – At the front of the classroom, using a projector, whiteboard or similar, draw a line down the middle and label one side best class and one side worst class. Beginning with “best class”, ask the students about the best class they’ve experienced and why, briefly capturing the highlights of their answers as you go along. Do the same for the “worst class”. Spend about five minutes per side. Then point out a few answers from each side to show the differences between a best class and worst class experience. Tell the students you want to this to be a “best class” experience for all and together you can have the power to make it happen.

5) Rapid Fire Forty – Prepare 40 half-sentences, for example, “Five years from now I will be….”, “My biggest goal this year is….”, “The weirdest food combination I really love is…”. In rapid fire succession, quickly read each half-sentence and randomly point to a student, who has to answer immediately. If one student has no answer, quickly point to another student. Repeat until all 40 questions have been answered. The quick pace helps create energy and fun, while random selection help remove barriers to participation.

6) Race to Read The Syllabus – Your syllabus is the roadmap you’ve prepared for your students to help guide them through the course. Rather than assume everyone is going to read it after class, have some fun with it the first day. Group students together into teams and give them 10 minutes to study the syllabus, devising a way to remember what’s on it. Give a hard copy quiz to each team. The first team to complete the quiz with a 100% score wins! A fun prize, a few bonus points towards their final grade or public recognition – whatever fits your style. Need some help creating a syllabus worth reading? Find it here.

One final tip: We have it on good authority that the phrase “ice breaker” makes students cringe and instantly feel resistant to whatever follows. Instead, invite your students to help you make your class one of the best by participating in a few easy activities. This also communicates that their participation will make a difference in creating the outcome.

Carrie O’Donnell is the CEO of O’Donnell Learn, a leading learning experience (LX) design firm dedicated to helping learners achieve their goals and flourish in life. ODL is passionate about partnering with institutions and their faculty to deliver learner-centered design and innovation.


The WOW Factor: Creating Faculty Development That Sparks Interest and Envy

Published By Carrie O'Donnell
on Jan 19, 2021

Imagine our surprise last summer when we reached out to 475 faculty and learned the online courses for nearly half were simply mirrors of their face-to-face instruction. In fact, only 22% were designing their courses differently for online. With all of the faculty development around online learning being offered, why weren’t more faculty designing courses specifically for this type of instruction? As it turns out, faculty weren’t engaging with development options at a level you might expect given COVID-19 and the rapid shift to online learning. Something we’d also learned in surveys and interviews with170 provosts and academic leaders a year earlier. The solution? The WOW Factor.

Purposeful Learning DesignTM – Why People are at the Center of Everything We Do

Published By Carrie O'Donnell
on Jan 15, 2021

I’m often asked why our company is so good at collaborating with  faculty. The first time I heard this question, I didn’t realize clients found this unique to O’Donnell Learn. We’ve always been great partners  because people are at the heart of everything we do. In fact, our entire design philosophy - Purposeful Learning DesignTM - is anchored around people.  It starts with this truth: learning is for people. As such, learning design should be grounded in empathy and it should promote success for both learners and faculty. Purposeful Learning Design is the philosophy we embrace to ensure we never lose sight of this truth. It is comprised of six key considerations.

2020 Reflective: Breathe Deep and Stay Agile

Published By Joana Jebsen
on Dec 22, 2020

While end-of-year survey results are still to come for how enrolled students are evaluating their 2020 college experience, I queried two of our staff, both students, about their overall experience and considered how these compared to what I was seeing with O’Donnell Learn clients. Kellie, our graphic design intern, just completed her Associates Degree in Graphic design. Prior to 2020, all of her courses met on campus. Cathryn, a Learning Design Associate is currently enrolled in an online Master of Education program in eLearning and Instructional Design. As this program was conceived as online delivery, it serves as a benchmark to compare against courses that were forced by COVID to switch delivery modes.