August 15, 2017

Five items for Fall Semester 2017

Posted by Laura Guertin

It’s time for another fall semester to begin. AGU published an EOS article on Gearing Up for Fall Semester, and I’ve started reviewing my prior blog posts on Items for the Start of the 2015-2016 Academic Year, Student collaborative note taking during lecture – encourage or discourage?, and more. For the start of this semester, I thought I would call attention to five topics that I’m sure are crossing all of our minds…


The title of the article linked in the tweet above is Your Syllabus Doesn’t Have to Look Like a Contract. The author found that students were more likely to read and engage with a syllabus that contained more images and less text (he includes his own syllabus as an example, looking more like a comic book). If you wish to get artistic, you may want to consider drafting a graphic syllabus to show the organization of and interrelationships among course topics.

Or, maybe we need to just have hidden surprises to draw students in to the syllabus. In a Chronicle of Higher Education article, Is Anybody Reading the Syllabus? To Find Out, Some Professors Bury Hidden Gems, faculty request students to email them photos of everything from dinosaurs to ALF to see if they have read the document. Personally, I use a syllabus quiz, which seems to work just fine.


From syllabus speed dating to first day graffiti, these ideas in Faculty Focus provide some unique directions to take your students perhaps you have not considered in the past. There are more ideas presented in The First Day of Class – What Will You Do?.



As a faculty member, I feel it is important to learn the names of my students, having them know they are a person and not just a number on an attendance sheet to me. This article discusses how students also feel it is important for faculty to know their names and provides suggestions for making it happen.

And may I suggest something NOT to do… one of my undergraduate professors had a print copy of the class roster, and next to each student name he wrote some sort of characteristic about the student (physical, personality, etc.). One day, the roster was in the room and with the professor was nowhere to be found, a few students ran up to see what the professor had to say about us. My description – “plain.” That still sticks with me today. Should I know that he had this opinion about me? No, but I can’t unhear what the other students read out loud from that sheet.




It’s always a challenge to know which direction to go for this one. Are laptops actually a distraction? When three students are staring at one screen because someone has a Netflix movie playing – sure. In 2014, Psychological Science published an article titled The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard – Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking (you can probably guess what their results show). Perhaps ask students to define the technology policy for their classroom – but keep in mind that you may have a student that requires a classroom accommodation that allows him/her to use a laptop in class…



This topic is being discussed on my campus email listservs right now. Faculty are lamenting the impact of smartphones on our students, as well as their own children. Interestingly, my psychology colleagues have been discussing an article from Teaching of Psychology titled A Happy and Engaged Class Without Cell Phones? It’s Easier Than You Think. I’m not sold on the idea of students being able to earn enough extra-credit points that could raise their final grade by an entire letter grade for just putting their phone in the front of the room each class period, but are there other options? Where do we meet the students (or don’t we) when it comes to smartphones? For now, I’m sitting back and watching my math colleagues battle the Apple Watch in their math courses as the technology wars continue…