How to Encourage Students to Come Prepared to Your Class
by K. Sata Sathasivan, Ph.D., Co-founder and Chief Academic Officer, on Mar 22, 2021 11:08:03 PM
As professors, we feel we are always prepared to teach the subjects we love. After teaching introductory freshman biology for the past three decades, I could easily teach the class in my sleep. However, it is not always that easy for first-year college students who have never taken any related courses to prepare for your class. Some students may even come in with incomplete or incorrect knowledge that may hinder their learning. How can we ensure that all students can come to class prepared to listen to your lectures, stay engaged, and benefit the most from your teaching?
Students taking multiple courses in a semester can feel overwhelmed with the highly varied expectations of the different professors in their coursework. They often need help in understanding the expectations from each professor at the beginning of the semester.
A structured and organized syllabus with assigned readings before each class is essential, and adding a master calendar can be key in helping struggling students to know their expectations. Use the real calendar format provided by the MS Word template to include all the reading topics or subtopics, chapter numbers, and the dates for assignments and exams.
Once you have an organized syllabus and a master calendar, make sure students know how to find all the resources they need using their learning management system. Use a "Start Here" link on the course page or spend some time in class to show where resources are available and how students can utilize them. Setting up and stating the expectations will help your students understand the class structure and prepare them for each class.
Ensuring Student Preparation
Now you have set up the reading schedule in the syllabus and stated your expectations loud and clear, how will you ensure that students are following through? The best way to assess this is to implement a mini quiz at the beginning of each lecture to check student understanding and answer any questions. This can be easily done in small classes by asking questions orally and asking students to answer or raise hands if they have questions.
For larger classes of 50 to 500 students, it becomes even more difficult to make sure all of them come prepared. If you verbally ask questions, the same set of students will raise their hand and answer every time. Whenever, I start each class, the usual structure is to make brief announcements followed by 3 or 4 questions on the assigned topic for that class to check students' understanding using Squarecap. Students can also use the app to ask questions anonymously without raising their hands or sharing their names (unlike the chat features of many software). The simple, intuitive interface automatically grades multiple-choice questions and can automatically upload grades to learning management systems such as Canvas.
Without an organized syllabus, explicit statement of expectations, and active interaction, it can be difficult to make sure the students are coming to class prepared. Especially in the current pandemic, the more you can communicate and interact with your students, the more they will benefit from and succeed in your class.
Feel free to reach out to me (Sata@squarecap.com) as to how you may incorporate this in your class.