First Day of School! So Hit Snooze Again, Already

Posted on by Brooke

Everyone brush your hair, hang your name cards around your necks, and gather outside with your best neighborhood friends while your family takes pictures: it's the first day of school!

My summer session begins today. It's on online class, six weeks in length (therefore "intensive"). The course is "Introduction to the Old Testament," essentially an introduction to historical-critical and literary-critical biblical studies. There's a separate course focusing on Bible content.

Of course, "first day" is a relative term. The learners have already accomplished some minor tasks in the last weeks: logging on, doing a one-question "Choice" about whether they plan to pre-read the textbook, and taking a diagnostic quiz called "Is Online Learning for You?"

For my part, the "first day" is--quite intentionally--a bit of an anti-climax. For one thing, I haven't slept well. I never sleep well the night before the first day. It doesn't matter whether it's a face-to-face course or online. First-day jitters, I got 'em. For another, an online course is largely asynchronous: there's no three-hour block during which we've all got to be "on" for one another. Instead, we're all "on" for one another off-and-on throughout the week.

So, I've developed strategies for the "first day":

  • No hunting trips: Undoubtedly there are a few students who have not accomplished all of the pre-course activities, or whose registration is in some kind of limbo. I have been in contact with them regularly in the weeks and days before the term. It's tempting (especially to us tightly-wound types) to want to get all that buttoned down. (OMG!! It's the first day!!) Forget that. Unless they reach out to me (and it's great if they do), it can wait until the second day. Or the third. Hey, it's their course.
  • Get a late start: As surprising as this is to me, most of the learners have not taken a vacation day from their employer to celebrate the first day by jumping onto the LMS at dawn. Or even at nine. A few of them will bang out their Introduction before work or on lunch, but if the earliest deadline isn't until Wednesday, why shouldn't I plan to get some additional exercise on Monday morning? Eat a hot breakfast for once? Pet the dog and catch up on my Instapaper?
  • Smile before Christmas: I get the thinking behind "don't smile before Christmas." I just don't accept the costs in trust, good will, and positive reinforcement. The first day is a great time to catch students doing things right and, as publicly as possible, pasting a gold star on that and posting it to the refrigerator. A new course is like any other fear-inducing new environment (say, prison, or an alcoholic home, or the Internet): noobs will have their radar up for "cues" about what will be punished and what will be rewarded. Reward is more motivating and cleaner in its outcomes, so I try to catch good behavior early on.

What have you learned about yourself and "first days"? How do your routines reflect that?

[First Day of School! So Hit Snooze Again, Already was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/06/25. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]