The effects of social and environmental enrichment on the ...

The effects of social and environmental enrichment on the ...

Does the First Week of Class Matter?
A Quasi-Experimental Investigation of Student Satisfaction
Anthony D. Hermann, Ph.D., Bradley University,
David A. Foster, Western Oregon University, & Erin E. Hardin, Texas Tech University
Abstract
Teaching experts suggest that establishing clear expectations and a supportive environment at the beginning of a college course has a lasting impact on student attitudes.
Little empirical evidence exists, however, to support these suggestions. Consequently, we randomly assigned instructors to either begin their course with a reciprocal
interview activity aimed at these goals or in their typical fashion. At terms end, students experiencing the activity (n = 187) reported greater clarity regarding their course
responsibilities, more support from their instructor, and greater course satisfaction on both official evaluations and experimenter-administered measures, compared to
students who had not (n = 190). These results contribute to a converging body of evidence regarding this activitys efficacy and the importance of first week activities.

Introduction

Teaching experts frequently assert that the first days of
a college course have a long lasting impact on the
classroom environment and student attitudes.
Almost no empirical evidence exists regarding these
assumptions.
Wilson and Wilson (2007) found that students who
experienced a positive first day (i.e., a 15-min video of
friendly instructor) reported more positive perceptions
of the instructor and more motivation, compared to a
negative first day (i.e., a boring video instructor using
all class time to cover content & assign homework).
Motivation differences persisted and positive condition
students had higher grades at terms end.

More specific guidance is needed regarding how
instructors can effectively establish a positive and
productive environment.
Common expert suggestions for establishing a positive
and productive learning environment include:
o making instructor course expectations clear (Curzan
& Damour, 2000; Davis, 1993)
o creating a dynamic and supportive classroom
community (Lucas, 2006; McKeachie & Svinicki,
2006; Royse, 2001).

To accomplish these goals, Hermann and Foster (2008)
proposed a reciprocal student-instructor interview
activity, adapted from organizational psychology
textbooks (Harvey & Brown, 2000; Osland, Kolb, &
Rubin, 2000).
Two studies on immediate impact of this activity (Case,
Bartsch, McEnery, Hall, Hermann, & Foster, 2008;
Hermann & Foster, 2008) found that students reported:
they enjoyed the activity,
the activity clarified the instructors expectations,
they felt more comfortable participating in class and
interacting with the instructor.

Methods

5-point, -2 (entirely disagree) to 2 (entirely agree),
response range. Both scales had adequate internal
reliability ( =.84 and .88, respectively).

Satisfaction with course.

overall satisfaction with this course on 7-point scale of -3
(very dissatisfied) to 3 (very satisfied).
16 items on the official university student evaluations of
instruction for each section,
5-point scale of 5 (strongly agree) to 1 (strongly disagree).

Procedure
Instructor training.

Orientation sessions. Both groups were instructed to
conduct a typical first day (i.e., syllabus overview, brief ice
breaker, brief intro. to material) and the activity group was
also given instruction on conducting the activity.

Activity.

INSTRUCTOR INTERVIEW. In small groups of 5 or 6,
students discussed several course-related issues to
respond to instructor interview. Topics included:
expectations & goals
experiences related to the course
suggestions for classroom norms
instructor behaviors to help them achieve goals.

Each group selected a representative to field the
questions and represent their groups responses.

SD

M

SD

4.55

.27

4.12

.32

1.20

4.81

.10

4.50

.33

1.09

4.76

.10

4.38

.23

1.45

Expectation clarity

1.21

0.62

1.02

0.69

.29

Supportiveness

1.14

0.64

0.84

0.78

.42

Satisfaction with course

2.31

1.04

1.94

1.32

.31

Hypothesis 1

Discussion

With a fairly simple intervention in the first week, instructors can
create a positive environment with long-lasting effects on student
perceptions of their instructor and course satisfaction.

Activity students expected a more supportive and clearer
communication, which accounted in part for more satisfaction.

Provides converging support of teaching experts assertions
regarding the importance of the first week of class.

Unclear which aspects of activity are responsible for results.
the reciprocal exchange between student and instructor
students perceptions of the instructors intentions
giving students an early opportunity to meet classmates
requiring early, active participation
normalizing concerns through public discussion

Future research can:

Individual level, students who experienced the activity also:
reported more satisfaction with the course on the
experimenter-administered measures.
had come to expect more clarity from the instructor.
had come to expect more supportiveness from the
instructor.
Supportiveness partially mediated the relationship between the
activity and satisfaction with the course

Sobels test z = 3.57, p < .001, accounting for an additional 9% (RR2) of the variance, total R2 = .11). Expectation clarity also partially mediated the relationship between the activity and satisfaction with the course Sobels test z = 2.57, p < .05) accounting for an additional 13% (RR2) of the variance, total R2 = .15). Both supportiveness (RR2 =.06, p < .001) and clarity (RR2 =.01, p < .05) explained unique variance in satisfaction with course, even when controlling for the effects of the other (total R 2 =.16). Cohens d Note: Sample sizes for university items were 8 in each condition and 187 and 190 for the experimenter items (activity and no activity conditions, respectively). Results Hypothesis 2 No Activity Condition Experimenter Items Opportunities to cover important issues that had not yet been addressed, like the challenging course aspects or the ways to get assistance with course material. University evaluations, sections that experienced the activity reported more favorable attitudes about the course (See Table 1). For example, activity sections: rated the course as a more valuable learning experience. perceived that their instructor welcomed questions more. perceived that expectations were more clearly communicated. the same effects were observed on 12 of the 13 items only exception on ratings of workload Activity Condition M Overall this course was a valuable learning experience. The instructor welcomed and encouraged questions and comments. Expectations were clearly stated either verbally or in the syllabus. Instructors answered thoughtfully and sincerely & promised to return to issues Clarity and Supportiveness. STUDENT INTERVIEW. Afterward, groups elected new representatives to interview the instructor on the groups behalf. Representatives interview instructor. Measures Ffive items each (e.g., I expect from my instructor that he or shespecifically describes the evaluation criteria in this course and treats me as a person, not a number, respectively). University Items Discussed issues (e.g., the instructors expectations, evaluation practices). Instructors were relatively inexperienced (M = 1.6 semesters prior teaching, mode = 2) and prior experience did not differ between groups, p > .40.

Hypothesis 1: Students who experienced the activity
would be more satisfied with the course at the end of
the term than students who had not.
Hypothesis 2: Student perceptions of instructor support
and expectation clarity should account for a significant
portion of the activitys effects.

Instructors (and hence their students) were randomly assigned
to activity (n = 187) or no activity condition (n = 190).

Items and Source

Conveyed interest by taking notes (on blackboard or
notebook) and by asking clarifying questions.

377 undergraduates (age M = 19.8, SD = 3.8; 56% female)

To date, however, no research has demonstrated the
long-term impact of this or any other first-week
activity.

Instructors interviewed the group representatives in the
presence of the class.

Participants
enrolled in 1 of 16 sections of intro psychology at a large
southwestern university.

Table 1. Means, standard deviations, and effect sizes for university-administered
evaluation of instruction items and experimenter-administered measures of
expectation clarity, supportiveness, and student satisfaction with course as a
function of experimental condition

provide more evidence about which aspect of first week
activities have the most impact.
elucidate which courses benefit from which types of activities.
address the impact of this activity on instructors and their
relation to student attitudes and outcomes.
References
Case, K. A., Bartsch, R. A., McEnery, L., Hall, S. P., Hermann, A. D., & Foster, D. A. (2008). Establishing a comfortable classroom from
day one: Student perceptions of the reciprocal interview. College Teaching, 56, 210-214.
Curzan, A., & Damour, L. (2000). First day to final grade: A graduate student's guide to teaching. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan
Press.
Davis, B. G. (1993). Tools for teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Harvey, D., & Brown, D. R. (2000). An experiential approach to organization development (6th Ed.). Lebanon IN: Prentice Hall.
Hermann, A. D., & Foster, D. A. (2008). Fostering approachability and classroom participation during the first day of class: Evidence for
a reciprocal interview activity. Active Learning in Higher Education, 9, 141-153.
Lucas, S. G. (2006). The first day of class and the rest of the semester. In W. Buskist & S. F. Davis (Eds.), The handbook of teaching
psychology (pp. 41-45). Malden, MA: Blackwell.
McKeachie, W. J., & Svinicki, M. (2006). McKeachie's teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers
(12th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Osland, J. S., Kolb, D. A., & Rubin, I. M. (2000). Organizational behavior: An experiential approach (7th Ed.). Lebanon IN: Prentice Hall.
Royse, D. D. (2001). Teaching tips for college and university instructors: A practical guide. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Wilson, J. H., & Wilson, S. B. (2007). The first day of class affects student motivation: An experimental study. Teaching of Psychology,
34, 226-230.

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