Suggestions for Successfully Launching a Course

A cutout of a rocket taking off against a pink backdrop, illustrating the notion of "course launch"
The new academic year is fast approaching, and course preparations are either underway or on everyone’s mind. We begin every semester, every year, wanting all our courses to go well. Even more importantly, we want our students engaged and learning. And they begin each new course with high hopes. They want it to be one they “like,” taught by a teacher who cares. The challenge for teachers and students is moving forward and staying connected. Below are pieces of advice on beginnings that keep everyone traveling together in the direction of learning, activities to help you implement that advice, and links to other relevant articles within the Teaching Professor archives.

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The new academic year is fast approaching, and course preparations are either underway or on everyone’s mind. We begin every semester, every year, wanting all our courses to go well. Even more importantly, we want our students engaged and learning. And they begin each new course with high hopes. They want it to be one they “like,” taught by a teacher who cares. The challenge for teachers and students is moving forward and staying connected. Below are pieces of advice on beginnings that keep everyone traveling together in the direction of learning, activities to help you implement that advice, and links to other relevant articles within the Teaching Professor archives.  

Focus on learning

Advice

Let learning center the course from day one. Yes, there should be rules, policies, and specified procedures—signposts leading the way to a successful course experience—but they aren’t what matters most. Start with learning: the knowledge and skills that students will develop in this course.

Activities

Links

Make time for introductions

Advice

They’re important! Get everyone involved in learning and using each other’s names. Communities of learners aren’t populated by anonymous persons. Community building starts with introductions, the opportunity for students to meet, greet, and begin talking to each other. Unquestionably the challenge is bigger in a large course, but it’s not impossible, and it’s not necessary for teachers to learn every name. See the links below for details.

Activities

Links

Consider a syllabus makeover (in terms of what’s on it and what you do with it)

Advice

Start by clarifying your thinking about the role the syllabus plays in your course. Is it a detailed roadmap that gets students from the beginning of the course to the end? Is it an introduction and overview of what’s to come? Does it focus on student responsibilities? Is it an invitation to an exciting learning event? Is it a contract?

Activities

Links

Encourage students to read the syllabus

Advice

Avoid “going over” the syllabus—that is, talking about every detail of the course. That gives students a good reason not to read the syllabus: they’ll expect you to tell them everything they need to know. Teach in ways that make students responsible for what’s on the syllabus.

Activities

Links

Create the climate for learning

Advice

You can say that you want to establish a climate for learning in this course. You can put that in your syllabus. But climates of respect, collaboration, and engagement are created by what teachers do, not what they say. The old adage applies: actions speak louder than words.

Activities

Links

Provide information on what it takes to do well in the course

Advice

Avoid giving teacherly advice on how to study. Even though students should listen to you, most won’t. They’re thinking that it’s been years since you were a student and that students now are way smarter about what they need to do than you were back then. They do need good advice on succeeding in the course, just not from a teacher who sounds like a parent. The links below highlight research relevant to succeeding in a course.

Activities

Links