Activities for the First Day of Class


   Linh Do

Syllabus speed dating as a first-day, ice-breaker exercise? Maryellen Weimer, an emerita professor at Penn State Berks, who is responsible for Teaching Professor Blog, offers this and a number of other activities for the first day of class.  You may find resources from Faculty Focus, the site her blog is associated with, useful as well.

For Ryerson resources on what to do on the first day of class, see this handout from the Learning and Teaching Office.

If you’re teaching CMN 314, I recommend Sandra Rosenberg’s ice-breaker exercises, detailed in the “Teaching Tips” page of this blog.

Productive Class Discussion Using Polls


In an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, James M Lang weighs the advantages of rich class discussion using online polls against the risk of smartphone distraction. The article links to a variety of valuable resources on online polling and device distraction and includes a brief list of sensible approaches to handling student smartphone use in the classroom.

Role Play for Negative Messages

Tim Green

 © Sarah Kriger

Coming from a theatre background, I’ve had some good experiences building on performance activities for lesson plans. My favourite is a role-playing exercise that I developed for part of the Negative Messages class for CMN 279, focusing on delivering negative messages in person.

I like that role-play helps students experience and overcome “safe” versions of potential emotional obstacles to delivering effective negative messages. Often, many of them start the exercise feeling confident about the concepts we cover but find that applying those concepts in a face-to-face discussion with another person raises new challenges.

Because this exercise has been helpful in my class, I thought I’d share it with everyone else. The lesson plan has six main parts. I’ve found it leaves plenty of time to go over written negative messages and upcoming assignments at the end of class.



Tool for Ranking Criteria

If you’ve taught report writing, you may have found it difficult to explain how to weigh the importance of one solution criterion against another.  Filippo A. Salustri, a professor of mechanical engineering at Ryerson, has devised a straightforward pairwise comparison problem-solving method that you could introduce to your students. Thanks to Richard McMaster for drawing my attention to this tool.

You may also want to look at Professor Salustri’s engineering design site.  His uncompromising policy on grade bumping requests, entitled “don’t bother begging for marks,” is eye-opening.

Meaningful Participation Marks


© Sandra Rosenberg 2017

Assignment #1:  Participation – Your Most Important First Impression

Students are often unsure about how to decide if they will do well in a course.  Chances are they have consulted anyone with any knowledge of the course and, importantly, the professor; so it is imperative to be both clear and up front about how the class will run.

The first day is critical, with students assessing how much they like an instructor, and, increasingly, if they will “have fun”.  It is the second of these two that worries me enough to ensure “what you see is what you get” in the first assignment, which is typically given before the drop date.

I have found that spelling out clearly exactly how a grade is achieved, with a generalized rubric if possible, helps students know both how to do their best, and why the grade is justified.  Complaints are reduced in direct proportion to how clearly the numbers add up.

Here is one version of my participation grade for a skills-based introductory level communication course: Participation


Impromptu Exercise for Speech Class

Thomas Hawk

© Sandra Rosenberg 2017

Impromptu speaking is something our texting students will increasingly lose the ability to master.  When asked a simple question by a colleague face-to-face, eyes drop and incomplete phrases emerge.

This skill is increasingly important for both job interviews and networking in a live situation.  A fun assignment, or even just a new ice breaker for the first day, “One Minute at the Dollar Store” has proven successful in both an introductory communication course, and an advanced professional presentation course (where more is demanded from participants).

Any collection of objects will do.  The Dollar Store is used since the assignment originated for a Retail course when this new retailer emerged; but the increasing success of the store and its familiarity for students allows it to be a convenient source of objects.  Instructors can even request students bring in an object of their own, without telling them why.

If used as an ice breaker, some object on hand, or even a photo on a phone, can serve as inspiration for self-introduction on the first day.  The important part is the shape of the presentation, as outlined in the assignment.


Learning Myths Quiz


© Kevin Leung 2017

As instructors, we’ve probably heard many tips on teaching and studying throughout our careers.  How many of these prescriptions actually hold up in the research? You might be wondering: Should we tailor teaching to different learning styles? What’s the best way for students to review materials for an exam? Do left-brained and right-brained people learn differently?

Extensive psychology research has shed light on these questions.  Take this short quiz yourself (below) to see if you still subscribe to any learning myths!


Happy Thoughts for the End of Term


Lauri Heikkinen

At this time of year, with mountains of assignments to mark and job applications to face, it’s natural to feel snarly. Soon the union will be surveying us about our working conditions and hopes for the new contract, and at that point we can channel our frustrations productively.

Still, it’s difficult to deal with the work ahead of us this month and beyond, if we keep awareness of the drawbacks of our situation at the top of our minds, so at this point I offer a few happy thoughts about what is good about our jobs here at Procom in an effort to make this time of year a little easier…

Great colleagues

It’s rare to find a workplace where your colleagues are a pleasure to know. We’re a fun, mutually supportive, committed, innovative group, and it’s easy to take for granted that we go to work without feeling stressed about one another.

Unpretentious, Creative, Energetic Students

The above traits distinguish Ryerson students from other university students I’ve taught. On average, I don’t think our cohort sizes us up for worthiness or tries cynically to impress us in order to garner a better mark. Most are quite adept team members who try sincerely to produce quality work.

Flexible Work Conditions

Many people who work in conventional offices would kill for the flexibility we have: two study breaks and staggered schedules. Not only do we have the freedom to do most of our work when we choose, we can also weave freelance or other employment into our schedule without penalty.


Despite the strictures of multi-section courses, we still can put our own stamp on our classrooms and approach teaching as we see fit. Many of our courses also compel us to draw on our creative impulses and so realize some of the aptitudes and interests that drew us to higher education.

Work Environment

Of course it’s not ideal to try to do our jobs in shared offices or one big room with dividers. However, the rooms aren’t old and depressing or housed in a building with questionable air quality (think VIC). We also have new computers and software and access to a Cloud system.

Rewards of Working at Ryerson University

We are no longer working at “Rye High.” Ryerson is a diverse and striving place which hasn’t stagnated because of complacency. It’s still possible to feel a part of the forward motion of the institution even as a sessional. We contribute to curricula, conference presentations and, in Procom’s case, the vision of the School.

Additional benefits are access to free courses and tuition for family members, new facilities, opportunities for collaboration with faculty in other programs and quick access to the subway.

Pay and Benefits

Granted, we work hard for what we earn. Nevertheless, because we are unionized, we can hope to gradually move toward a comfortable salary and some job security. The benefits package is also better than for many other organizations.

Effective Union

Our executive has managed to secure a measure of job security for 60 members and is working hard to increase that number. This isn’t a union that goes through the motions. I’ve seen senior members handle the delicate relationship with management with skill, and we’d be in a very different situation if we didn’t have CUPE bargaining for our rights

Final Thoughts

As a superstitious person and habitual contrarian, I have to end with “knock on wood.” Still, I think we can take comfort in the consolations of our jobs in April, 2017.




Massive Open Online Courses


Catherine Jenkins has a post on her blog about her experience with MOOCs. Her testimonial may finally spur me to bite the bullet and enroll in courses I’ve been intending to take. Not only do I want to broaden my knowledge of subjects I didn’t have time to cover as an undergraduate, but I’m curious to see what “star” lecturers are like.

On a side note, if you hadn’t realized already, Catherine is a woman of many talents, as her blog attests.

Evaluations of Female Professors

Public Domain

Catherine Jenkins alerted me to a recent article about biases female sessional instructors encounter in teaching evaluations.  Because Ryerson allows instructors to keep the written comments to themselves, we don’t have to reveal the sometimes embarrassing remarks to the department. In my advancing age I haven’t received personal comments about my appearance for awhile, though I often get complaints like “I don’t get her, [sic] she seems nice, but then she is really picky about your writing.”  My schoolmarm thought is that I wouldn’t have been “nice” if I hadn’t been picky about their writing.