Tuesday, August 29, 2006

90 minutes

On Friday, the Special Programs classes at NorthWoods U are scheduled (like that passive? yeah, me too) to meet for 90 minutes. The rules are that we're not supposed to "do" stuff related to course content*. The art history prof can't show art history slides; the music prof can't play music, and so forth. And the writing instructor can't have students do a writing diagnostic or talk about what an essay is.

Our residential students (and that includes most freshman) have been on campus for a week doing all sorts of activities, mostly up in the dorms. I'm guessing they've had it up to here (/waves hand over the top of head vaguely) with advice about studying, time management, and such.

So, what to do for 90 minutes?

Usually I try to do three things: I try to learn names (20-30 minutes); I use the one-by-one around the room getting a name and then repeating all the names so far method. I usually try to get them to say something about themselves, but I can't think of a good question yet so far. Suggestions? (added in revision: I'm thinking of giving them a few minutes ahead of time to write about what kind of person they want to be in ten years, and then telling us one of the qualities they've chosen and why. Not career, but what qualities they want to have and such.)

And I try to begin explaining college culture from my point of view: I talk about how to address professors (Mr/Ms, Professor, Doctor all tend to be safe unless otherwise stated). I tell them never to ask a professor if they've missed anything important when they missed a class. I tell them they should go meet their advisor and go see their professors in office hours during the first three weeks of class, just to say hi. I tell them that I respect them as adults, and that I expect them to treat their colleagues and me with respect as well.

And finally, I have them exchange phone numbers and email info with at least five other people in class, so that they'll be able to get notes if they miss class or something.

That's 10 minutes.

The student mentor I've been assigned for the day wants to go through the student handbook. (Just say NO to plagiarism!) And he wants to do some "ice breakers."

And we'll ask for questions.

I'm assuming, then, that we'll have half an hour or more.

Oh wisdom of the internet, what activity would actually benefit my students and me that we can do in half an hour without addressing the content of the class?


After our class meeting, students are supposed to go find their classrooms for the coming semester, and are supposed to have a chance to go to the bookstore to buy books and such.

Classes officially start on Tuesday. Between Friday at about 1pm and Tuesday at 8am, no sane non-student wants to be near Drinking Drive, the student bar area of town.

In years past, I've invited students to join my dog and me for a walk through the most beautiful part of campus. (Almost no one ever came. Too early, I guess? Too much fear of looking like a suck up?) My dog's been dead for well over a year now, but I'm thinking of inviting them to join me on a bike ride on a local trail.

I'm torn about telling them to rent a kayak from the campus center. First, because they don't have infinite kayaks, and I may want to. And second because the local waterways are already dangerous for student drinkings; encouraging kayaking when students may be drinking seems like a bad mistake, eh?

*Why can't we talk about course content? In its infinite wisdom, the state legislature has decreed that we can't start classes before Labor Day, NOT because we as a state honor labor, much less anything to do with organized labor, but because the state economy depends lots on student labor working in the service industries related to summer tourism. (Except, of course, that most of our students have already left those summer jobs to return to campus or local housing.) So, just in case some students aren't at the Friday session, we can't do anything related to course content.


  1. In the "what to call professors" section you might also want to spend a little time on email etiquette. Though technically emailing is writing, so it may be out of bounds....

    (This seems like a ridiculous exercise, by the way - why bother having class? Are there students who just don't bother to show up?)

  2. Anonymous12:05 PM

    That is really absurd, Bardiac. But, heaping large doses of benefits of the doubt around...

    Could you choose a very, very short play that you are not going to cover this semester, and read it together? Just for fun, of course.

    Do make sure everyone has their email address and can get on Blackboard or whatever you use.

    Good luck...

  3. I just wanted to say that I think your idea of taking them our a dog walk/bike ride is just so lovely. I love it. Hmmm...I am scheduled to have a meeting with eight student advisees next week (having never done advising and wondering what the heck to do) and you make me think that maybe we should take a walk on the wooded trails of this beautiful campus.

    Good luck!

  4. I'd ask them to get into groups and figure out, if they were professors, how they'd like to be treated and what might make them a bit irritated.... it could be interesting information.

    Also -- if you are where I think you are -- at best the state law applies to the University of State, not to the (State) State Colleges and University system... I'm part of that system and we started last week. My understanding of it is that the law either only applied to K-12 and/or was repealed recently... although, our system is going to standardize start and end dates -- which will be nice.

  5. Thanks for the suggestions, folks!

    I talked the assigned student mentor OUT of spending an hour going through the orientation handout, and told her to focus on three things she thought students need to know. She looked shocked! Then she admitted that her own orientation had gone through the book and been useless.

    Inside, I don't know about the system stuff legally, just what people around here seem to think is at the root of the calendar. But we so often do stuff because we THINK we have to, only to find out later that we're wrong!

  6. I can tell you something I'm planning on trying in the classroom -- I've heard great things from others but it will be my first time doing it myself.

    It's called a number of things, but usually Active Listening or Sharing. You have students pair off and take turns talking -- about whatever they want, or you can give them a hint, or you can ask them to "tell their life stories." The listener isn't supposed to really say anything, just listen attentively and be pleased with whatever the talker says. Each person trades time -- so, say, five minutes each.

    I think this will be a good icebreaker for the first class, but also think it will be a good way to break the tension in the beginning of classes that are on more controversial material. If everyone can let off a little steam before doing a big group discussion, I'm hoping there will be a more even distribution of talkers and that they'll all have had more of a chance to think before they speak.

    If you do use it, let me know how it goes! I'll be using it next Wed.