Am I getting through? Surveying students on what messages they recall from the first day of STEM classes

Clara L. Meaders, Lillian G. Senn, Brian A. Couch, A. Kelly Lane, Marilyne Stains, MacKenzie K.R. Stetzer, Erin Vinson, Michelle K. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: The first day of class helps students learn about what to expect from their instructors and courses. Messaging used by instructors, which varies in content and approach on the first day, shapes classroom social dynamics and can affect subsequent learning in a course. Prior work established the non-content Instructor Talk Framework to describe the language that instructors use to create learning environments, but little is known about the extent to which students detect those messages. In this study, we paired first day classroom observation data with results from student surveys to measure how readily students in introductory STEM courses detect non-content Instructor Talk. Results: To learn more about the instructor and student first day experiences, we studied 11 introductory STEM courses at two different institutions. The classroom observation data were used to characterize course structure and use of non-content Instructor Talk. The data revealed that all instructors spent time discussing their instructional practices, building instructor/student relationships, and sharing strategies for success with their students. After class, we surveyed students about the messages their instructors shared during the first day of class and determined that the majority of students from within each course detected messaging that occurred at a higher frequency. For lower frequency messaging, we identified nuances in what students detected that may help instructors as they plan their first day of class. Conclusions: For instructors who dedicate the first day of class to establishing positive learning environments, these findings provide support that students are detecting the messages. Additionally, this study highlights the importance of instructors prioritizing the messages they deem most important and giving them adequate attention to more effectively reach students. Setting a positive classroom environment on the first day may lead to long-term impacts on student motivation and course retention. These outcomes are relevant for all students, but in particular for students in introductory STEM courses which are often critical prerequisites for being in a major.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number49
JournalInternational Journal of STEM Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under grants DUE-1712074, DUE-1712060, and DUE-1347814; and the Center for Teaching Innovation at Cornell University. This research was considered exempt from institutional review: University of Maine protocol 2017-05-12, and Cornell University protocol 1806008047.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Classroom observations
  • First day
  • Messaging
  • Non-content Instructor Talk
  • STEM courses
  • Undergraduate


Dive into the research topics of 'Am I getting through? Surveying students on what messages they recall from the first day of STEM classes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this