Structuring the First Lecture

Today’s the first lecture for both classes I’m involved in. Students came in with a lot of logistics questions, and they were often really disorganized, so it got me thinking about how to properly organize all the logistics information people need to know into a first lecture. This post covers the reasoning behind how we structured the logistics slides of CS 161’s first lecture. Feel free to use it as a guide when structuring your own first lectures.

To follow along, the first lecture from Fall 2021 is linked here.

Course Overview

Slides 8-12 are purely about course content - what you’ll learn in the class, topics covered in the class, and prerequisites for taking the class. These are in their own section so that the following logistics section can be purely about how the class is structured, with nothing about course content. It’s worth keeping in mind that students haven’t seen any course content yet, so mixing course content into logistics slides can be unnecessarily confusing.


Slide 14: The most common question from students when we have a long waitlist is “can I get into the class,” so we start off the logistics section with a note about whether you can take the class or not.

Course Structure

Slides 15-19 each cover exactly one aspect of the class: lectures, discussions, office hours, and exams. These are all distinct things that students can attend, so giving each one its own slide helps with keeping the logistics organized.

Since this semester was a hybrid semester, we added a note on Slide 15 reassuring students that there’s full support for remote students, since a very common question was “can I do [insert thing here] remotely?” The answer for us was “yes” to everything, so that slide helped squash a lot of questions early.

Resources and Platforms

This next section contains all the distinct resources that students can access. This includes all the websites where material is posted, platforms for asking questions, and platforms for submitting assignments.

Grading Structure

This section contains distinct things that students must complete. Questions about how many assignments there are, how they’re structured, and policies for deadlines and submissions can all go here.

Class Policies

This next section is for miscellaneous ground rules that students should follow in the class, such as collaboration/cheating policies, posting etiquette, and ethics (for a computer security course).

Extenuating Circumstances, Stress Management, Mental Health

This section might be the most important, because it covers everything related to supporting students in difficult situations. We talk about registering with DSP (the Disabled Students’ Program), our extensions form for requesting extensions on assignments, non-academic resources for mental health, and opportunities to set up meetings if they’re feeling overwhelmed.

In particular, we emphasize (in bold!) that your health is more important than this course. We think it’s important for students to hear this so that they understand that we’re on their side and that they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for extensions. We also have a slide emphasizing that failure is always an option, and there are more important things to student’s lives than their grade in this class.