For Hyatt, creating a “wow” experience begins with first determining the specific expectations a customer (or student, in this case) brings to the experience. From there, you determine what both meeting and failing to meet those expectations looks like. With these in mind, think about what it would mean and look like to exceed their expectations.
Let's consider how we might create a “wow” experience for our students on the first day of class. First, though, let’s consider a typical first day.
What is a typical first day like?
On the first day of class, students are typically nervous, unsure or overwhelmed. If they registered for your course as an elective, they really have no idea what to expect other than the short blurb in the course description and what they hear through the proverbial grapevine. If they are a major in your department, they might have additional anxiety related to the pressure of doing well in their major course of study as well as to impress you as a potential mentor or advisor. They also might feel overwhelmed as they receive syllabi from all the courses and may be wondering how in the world they will get all the work done over the course of the semester.
So what do these students typically experience? Speaking for myself, I know that I’ve been known to go over the syllabus in painstaking detail. I’ve also gone to great lengths to explain my rationale for the course, why I structured assignments the way I did, research I’ve conducted, and more not-so-exciting activities. When I shift perspective and put myself in their shoes, I have a really different view of how I have approached the first day. It’s not exactly the kind of “wow” experience I’d like to create.
How might we “wow” our students instead?
This was essentially the question my colleague Lindy Johnson and I posed to our school’s faculty in our opening faculty retreat. Specifically, we asked small groups the following three prompts:
- What specific expectations does a typical student bring to the first day of class? What might they be feeling and thinking?
- What does failing to meet students’ expectations for this experience look like?
- What does exceeding students expectations for the first day look like? How might you “wow” students to set the stage for a meaningful and engaging semester?
At the conclusion of this simple, 15-minute empathy exercise, our colleagues had some amazing ideas. Perhaps some of these ideas will inspire you as they did us…
- Begin class by introducing a controversial case to begin meaningful discussion and engagement right away.
- In a course focused on teaching reading, students develop timelines of books that have been very important in their lives and then share with a group. This helps to kindle the passion for reading and inspires students.
- Begin class with common false assumptions or misconceptions related to the focus for the class. This captures students’ curiosity and draws them in.
- Students begin by sharing in small groups the experiences in their lives that brought them to where they are today. The instructor then bridges this to encourage them to think about how the course might help them in future efforts.
- Because many students have anxiety related to courses, one instructor plans to encourage them to name and share their concerns about the course. The instructor can then tie back to these concerns to illustrate how the course will help them alleviate their fears.
Armed with this new perspective and hopefully inspired by these new ideas, how might you “wow” your students on the first day of class?