(Originally published Aug 23, 2012)

The semester is about to begin.  It’s been a great summer, but it’s time to return to the classroom.  Students are back on campus.  The syllabi are written and copied.  And everything is ready to start a new year.

But what to do with these few days before classes start (which for GVSU is Monday, August 27)? Last year at a faculty workshop on teaching, I heard the idea of emailing your students before the semester begins. So, the introduction emails are on their digital ways now. This is the second year I’ve done this and the results have been terrific.

In the email, I begin by introducing myself and ask them to do the same. This way they feel a level of comfort and familiarity with me before the semester even starts.  The feedback last year on these emails was overwhelmingly positive.  Several students, especially incoming freshman in the fall, said it made them feel more welcomed to the university and to our class.

I also include a picture of myself and invite those that are willing to do the same.  GVSU doesn’t have a online facebook (in the older sense of the word) where professors can see photos of their students.  (I know some other schools have this, including at least one I’ve been at before.) With 128 students a semester, getting faces matched with names can take a little while. But the photos speed that process up tremendously.  It is helpful to already recognize some students when I walk in the first day.

Finally, I introduce the class, linking to the syllabus on blackboard.  Many incoming freshman don’t know of this resource yet, so a link to it and mentioning how to find the syllabus there (where several readings will be later in the term) puts them further along the learning curve from the start.  Some students have come to the first class with the syllabus already printed and even highlighted.

Once the email is sent, the responses start coming almost immediately.  Reading their introductions and beginning to get to know my students is one of my favorite parts of the semester.  Replying to all of them takes some time during the first week, but it is more than worth it.