First Four Weeks

It is well documented that the first four weeks are directly linked to student success in the course, and in many cases, to retention and graduation. In those first weeks, it is important to provide students with information via low-stakes assessments that let them know if they are studying correctly and if they are learning the material expected. A variety of supports promote student success, particularly important in these early weeks.

  • Use low stakes assessments during the First Four Weeks. group icon
  • Consider administering a mini-test at the same level of difficulty as larger tests. 
  • Whether you teach a fully online course or an RI course, we can’t stress enough the importance of using the gradebook in the LMS Canvas. Your students expect to be able to review their grades at all times to see how they are doing in your course. See Create Assignments to set up your Gradebook for more information.
  • In the first weeks of the semester, share rubrics and assignment descriptions so students know what will be expected. group icon
  • Convey learning objectives with verbs that can be measured.
  • Assess your students’ group process skills if they will be working in groups or on group projects. Incorporate these practices to promote successful group projects. group icon
  • Allow students to engage in self assessment or peer assessment. group icon
  • Identify other fundamental skills and resources necessary for students to demonstrate mastery (access, technology, etc.) group icon
  • Consider CSU’s Early Performance Feedback program which sends automated notices to students and advisors so students can receive the support they might need before it’s too late in the semester.
  • Review The Chronicle of Higher Education, “How to Teach a Good First Day of Class”

In addition to feedback on low-stakes assessments, the First Four Weeks initiative stresses the importance of creating a welcoming, inclusive space for all students. See Classroom Climate for strategies to create a class community where all students feel a sense of belonging.

Professor interacting with students during class

Additional Considerations for Teaching Online

While most of the information on teaching effectiveness pertains to both RI and online classrooms, following are a few key points for online courses.

For the first day in your online class, ensure you do the following:

  • Set up a home page in the learning management system that includes the course number and name, the term, the section numbers, and an image.
  • Include clear instructions for course navigation (e.g., where to go first, how to get started, etc.).
  • Provide a personal introduction about yourself within your course! While such an introduction can be in the form of text, consider a video or audio recording so that students have a voice and face to put with your name. See the Meet Randall Swaim, Ph.D., video [2:54] as an example.
  • Start your course with an icebreaker discussion so that students have an opportunity to get to know you and their classmates.
  • Send students an announcement via the learning management system a few days before the course begins, letting them know the course is open and to feel free to explore.
  • Set high expectations from the beginning. An instructor who holds high expectations will encourage high expectations from students
  • Use low stakes assessments during the First Four Weeks. group icon
  • Let students know when they can expect responses and feedback from you. Will you respond to emails in 24 hours? Will you return graded assignments within 48 hours?
  • Consider incorporating a syllabus quiz or course scavenger hunt in the first module to ensure that students grasped the most important points regarding course policies, assignments and objectives.
  • Be enthusiastic, friendly and motivated!

In the first few weeks and beyond:

  • Continue to send announcements to motivate students, introduce content and get them excited about what they will learn.
  • Consider using brief videos to introduce each module, or create short, recorded lectures on module topics. (See NSCI 619: Wave Machine Demo video [5:37] as an example.)
  • Use your students’ names when you interact with them in the online environment.
  • If you notice that a student has “stopped attending,” consider sending the student short email to check-in and see how they are doing.
  • Just as in traditional classes, short writing assignments, reading quizzes or practice tests and activities (for low point values) are ways to monitor student progress and provide feedback in the first four weeks of your online course. However, you can also use online discussion forums to do this.
  • Each module in an online course typically includes a discussion forum—an opportunity for the instructor or students to pose questions and share insights about the module content. This allows you, the instructor, to see if students are grasping content in each module and where you need to provide more information or steer them back on course. It also allows your students to earn points and receive feedback on where they need to improve before moving on to larger assessments worth greater numbers of points.