Following another awesome #sachat conversation, one idea for Orientation programming that took hold was the idea of ‘My First Lecture’ – an abbreviated sample lecture that gives students a taste of what academic life is like at university. This idea caught on in the Twitter-sphere and I wanted to write a brief post to explain more about this program.
I first planned a My First Lecture session at new student orientation at the University of Toronto Scarborough when I acted as Orientation Coordinator in 2005. Our intent then was to combine information about the history and traditions of our campus with some good old fashioned ‘unintentional’ or, as I call it, ‘sneaky’ learning. In this case, we purposely chose a lecture style format (an information delivery method I now try to avoid where possible) to give students an opportunity to sit through a ‘lecture’ that they might see in one of their first year classes. While the topic was different, the delivery method of one or two people in front of the room talking and the (over) use of PowerPoint slides was the same. The intent here was to show students what a possible lecture could be like, so there wouldn’t be as much of an academic shock when they started classes the next week.
What was missing from this presentation, and what we’re trying to rectify at my current institution, are two things:
- The ‘lecture’ content needs to be more relevant to the students. While a lesson on campus history and traditions may be fascinating to us professionals (especially when we’re the ones delivering it), a lecture that brings in current faculty members teaching first year content makes the sample lecture more ‘real’ and provides a more realistic view of what life will be like inside the classroom. There are some logistical and often political issues with getting faculty to come in and teach before the first day of classes, but we’ve been lucky so far around securing strong departmental and faculty support.
- The ‘lecture’ needs to be followed by intentional discussion and reflection. Providing students with an opportunity to review and reflect on the lecture and how they felt about it is a key component of this learning experience. Our next ‘first lecture’ will include time at the end for students to tell us whether this lecture fit with the assumptions and expectations they brought with them about what learning in university. We also want to include a (shameless) plug for some on campus resources to support them in their first year classes, especially if they may now be experiencing some cognitive dissonance after our dose of academic reality.