Sharing again: First day of class in introductory nutrition courses - what is your approach?

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Over the past twenty plus years I’ve had the honor – and challenge – of stepping in front of a new group of faces 43 times for the first day of the semester.   Recently online.    My classes have tended to be large ones averaging 150 or more students from diverse majors and backgrounds that have chosen to take introductory nutrition often as an elective.   My goal for this first interaction is not only to introduce myself and the course, but to ignite their interest and excitement about what they will learn during the semester.  Here are some thoughts and ideas – please share your strategies for Day One using the Reply button below!  

1.  Project a recent nutrition news story on the screen as students arrive.  For example, a recent study in JAMA found that kids and teens consume almost 70% of their calories from ultra-processed foods.  This catches attention and demonstrates relevance while also raising questions that taking the course can help address….You can also do this in synchronous online lectures by including or posting on the screen as students join.   

2.  I stopped going through the syllabus word by word electing to highlight important takeaways and expectations and encouraging them to read the syllabus as a contract and that by enrolling they are agreeing to the terms.   For the past several years, I have recorded a video that does walk through the syllabus in more detail and post it along with the print version on the course LMS page.   This saves me some precious class time and is also helpful for students that might enroll after the first day of class.  

3. After welcoming them and introducing myself, usually sharing what brought me into the field of nutrition along with a bit about myself professionally and personally, I’ve often opened the class with a short video.  While several years old, “Time Travel Dietitian” breaks the ice and illustrates the evolving (and often confusing) science of nutrition.   While they misspell as "dietician" and not all "facts" are quite right - it also allows opportunity to comment on the abundance of misconceptions in nutrition.   You might have seen it and use it, but if not, you'll get a chuckle!

4.  Because of the class size, to begin getting acquainted I have used a series of polling questions and have generated bar graphs or word clouds with answers – why they are taking the class, majors, where from, favorite food, etc.….   I’ve also asked students to name a food they consider “healthy” and one they consider “unhealthy” (provides some humorous answers from a big group and gives me an opportunity to let them know that all foods can have a place in an overall healthy diet!). 

5. If time permits after some opening engagement content, course orientation, and addressing questions, I’ve used some highlights from recent surveys as a sort of state of nutrition.   The International Food and Information Council’s annual Food and Health Survey can provide relevant statistics about perceptions and practices surrounding food choice – I’ve sometimes posed the same question from the survey to the class as a polling question and then show the IFIC survey results for the nation.   Also see my last post about food trends for 2022 - that might generate good discussion as well!   

Just a few ideas - every semester is a bit different!   Here is a First Day of Class resource from my university's Center for Teaching.  What is your approach for the first day of class?!

About the Author
Jamie Pope, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University, has worked in the areas of obesity research, health promotion, heart disease prevention, and since 2000 teaching introductory nutrition. Beyond the classroom, she adapted portions of her nutrition courses to produce a Massive Open Online Course attracting more than 175,000 participants from around the world. This experience earned Jamie an Innovation in Teaching award from the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. She is the co-author of the textbook entitled Nutrition for a Changing World. Now in its second edition, the text is in use in over 140 universities across the U.S. and the recipient of a 2020 Textbook Excellence Award. Most recently she developed and produced an audio course for (Nutrition 101: Understanding the Science and Practice of Eating Well) that is also featured on platforms like Apple Books and Audible. Jamie holds a Master’s of Science degree in Nutrition and post graduate work in Health Psychology. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Jamie is an active member and serves on the board of the Textbook and Academic Authors Association. She has authored or contributed to numerous scientific and popular press publications. Jamie also held several corporate positions, serving as nutrition consultant and media representative.