Creating an Effective Learning Environment

Take a moment to think back to your time as a student and recall some of your favorite courses.  Very likely, those courses well organized, assignments were clear, lectures and classroom discussions were focused and interesting, and the professor conveyed a compassion for teaching.  How can you create such an environment in your own courses?  Consider these techniques:

Begin to establish an effective environment on the first day of class:

  • Introduce yourself. Explicitly state the way you would like to be addressed.
  • Consider offering an ice breaker to relax students and encourage interaction.
  • Teach something; immediately begin to engage students in the course.
  • Take class time to review the syllabus and emphasize important aspects. In fact, use the syllabus to begin building student engagement even before you meet with students by ensuring that it articulates learning outcomes, class format, and expected behavior.  During those first few hectic add/drop weeks, students appreciate an instructor who clearly and concisely presents a course overview.
  • Expect some students to come in late. They’re getting lost, too!
  • Consider setting community rules (e.g., regarding phones, laptops, talking, sleeping, eating, late arrivals, and early departures) with the students ; they will appreciate the democratic approach.

Interact with students right away:  Learn names; anonymity discourages student engagement.  Using props (name cards, photos, index cards), taking attendance, and handing back papers and homework can help you to connect a name with a face.

Be prepared to respond to challenges:  See “Classroom Management” for details.

Engage, Engage, Engage:  Don’t let down once the course gets underway.  Continue to focus on the following strategies:

  • Arouse students’ curiosity
  • Convey your passion for the subject
  • Make course material relevant
  • Assign challenging but achievable tasks
  • Give students some control over their learning
  • Be available to meet students before and after class and during office hours

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