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Getting to Know Your Students

​Getting to know your students serves not only to build strong connections in the classroom, but also allows for the collection of relevant information from students to enhance course design and delivery and to promote student success. It is a way to recognize students as individuals with diverse backgrounds, interests, and academic goals and to promote and enhance a learning experience that fosters engagement with peers and course material. This page outlines strategies that instructors can employ at key points during their courses: 

Benefits for students 

Taking the time to build connection with students (i.e. learning their names and fostering trust) can encourage students to engage more in their classes. The sense of belonging created by being seen as well as supported and welcomed increases their motivation and academic performance (Addy et al., 2021; Felten and Lambert, 2020). Building connections with students before and after class, during office hours, and in regularly planned course communications helps students feel more comfortable to ask questions throughout the course and helps give them the tools to express what they need to succeed in the course which is an important feedback mechanism for instructors. 

Implementing strategies for getting to know students also impacts cross-cultural interaction between international and domestic students both inside and outside the classroom because the strategies help to foster a positive sense of belonging (Glass and Westmont, 2014). Instructors can actively incorporate inclusive teaching practices by helping to bring together diverse students to build connections amongst themselves as a class or learning group. 

Benefits for Instructors 

Integrating and Using Feedback for Teaching Development

Instructors benefit from collecting relevant information from students to not only foster connection with students but also to support academic performance by identifying areas students need the most help in and to make real-time adjustments throughout the delivery of a course. Feedback tools used throughout a course can also highlight teaching skills and help instructors articulate what they do well when developing their teaching dossiers and applying for promotion or awards.  

Course-related Benefits

  • Opportunities to gather information prior to the start of term to make relevant course adjustments before classes begin
  • Opportunities to respond  to students and their needs and address their concerns in a more timely or immediate manner
  • Ability to adapt and adjust course activities or materials to meet students where they’re at with their learning as the course progresses

Teaching Dossier and Self-reflection Benefits:

  • Having evidence of how you are a responsive and/or inclusive instructor through assessment and classroom activities
  • Having alternative data to course evaluations that can be used to showcase how students are supported in their learning
  • Gathered evidence can be used to emphasize teaching excellence in awards or tenure and promotion dossiers
  • Materials can contribute to self-reflection to determine areas for continuing or growing teaching skills and to help set teaching goals

A few considerations

When considering how best to get to know your students, reflect on how you want to collect information to know them better (anonymously, asynchronously using technological tools, in-class through activities) and what information would be most beneficial to you in your course design and delivery. How will you use or incorporate this information into your course? Consider also how and when to build rapport with students (e.g. icebreakers, check-ins, office hours). 

The following strategies can be used in diverse teaching scenarios from small seminars to large classes. Large and online classes may require the use of more technological tools (e.g. iClicker) while smaller or medium classes might rely more on reflection or discussion-based tools.

Strategies at Key Points Throughout Term

Before the Course Begins

Send a welcome message via email or a News Item on MyLearningSpace (MyLS) Prior to the start of class, introduce yourself, share your enthusiasm for the course, and/or share key information like the room, date, times of the course, and any course policies or expectations such as Generative AI use. Welcome messages could also include more practical tips like places to eat on campus or campus resources and supports for students. In sharing something about themselves in a warm and welcoming message, instructors get to set a tone for communicating and building trust.

Consider the benefits of a pre-course survey or questionnaire sent to students before the start of class. A pre-course survey can help an instructor get a sense of who their students are and the kinds of knowledge, skills or experiences they are bringing with them into the course. Pre-course surveys can help foster a sense of belonging, which, in turn, helps promote an inclusive teaching environment. This approach can be helpful in large classes as they provide useful information on who our students are and learning how to support them when in-class opportunities to get to know students on an individual basis may be a challenge. 

When designing a pre-course survey, first consider sharing the same or similar information that you’ll be requesting from students so they get to know you and have a model for how much and what type of information to share. Then, consider what you want and need students to share about themselves without asking them to divulge personal information that they won’t be willing to share and isn’t relevant to the course. Questions can also be used to get a sense of what pre-existing knowledge and skills students are bringing into the class, such as their experience or expectations with Generative AI tools.

Surveys can be developed on the course MyLS and shared before the start of term. You can view eLearning’s how-to guide on MyLS surveys for steps to set up a survey for your course or visit the MyLearningSpace resource pages on Connect. Setting up a survey in MyLS is similar to setting up a quiz with the distinction that a survey can’t be scored and isn’t connected to the gradebook. 

Sample questions:

  • Preferred name and pronouns (if comfortable sharing)?
  • What are your academic or career goals related to this course/program?
  • What is your prior experience or knowledge in this subject?
  • Something about the course that you’re excited about? Worried about?
  • What’s something interesting or unique about you that you’d like me and your peers to know about you?  This can be anything from hobbies to learning needs, or perhaps allergies.
  • Have you used or are familiar with Generative AI, like Chat GPT? Which versions have you used?
  • Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself or want the instructor(s) to know? 

For more examples of pre-course survey questions, explore Yale’s developing a pre-course survey resources.

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On the First Day of Class

Establish Instructor Presence

Before asking students to introduce themselves to you and their peers, establish your own connection with them by selectively sharing aspects of yourself to model what and how much to share. 

Instructors can choose to share their passion and interest in the subject, their journey or experience as a student in that field, and even personal information connected to hobbies, travel, or even family. Sharing a little about yourself gives insights into who you are as an instructor and helps to build trust with students. As Brookfield says, “Trust between teachers and students is the affective glue binding educational relationships together” (1990). 

Explore more ideas in eCampus’ Building Teaching Presence during Term resource.

Begin to Learn Student Names

Knowing student names can go a long way for creating a sense of belonging and fostering engagement in the classroom. Attempting to learn even some names in large enrollment classes can help show that students are more than “bums in seats;” the attempt alone can increase student success and even motivate students to seek out help from their instructors (Felten & Lambert, 2020). 

Some strategies include: 

  • Use name tags or name cards to learn student names. Students can share their preferred name and can add pronouns (if they want). Name tags can be collected and then re-distributed in subsequent classes as a way to help you remember students, connect with them at the beginning of each class, and to take attendance.
  • Have students introduce themselves to the class or to their immediate neighbours (right, left, front, back) depending on the size of class. If it’s a smaller class size, you could have students introduce one of their neighbours to the class or instructor.
  • In large classes, when a question is asked or students respond to questions, ask students to first share their name.

Use Icebreaker Activities 

These are structured, informal activities designed to help students get to know one another and their instructor through short introductions and non-graded, low barrier ways. Using an icebreaker on a first day, or every day, can help energize the class and get students more comfortable with one another. In large classes, icebreakers can be adapted using various technological and polling tools like iClickers or Mentimeter.

Activities can involve:

  • Asking students to share experiences or to provide more personal introductions (i.e. their academic background)
  • Asking light-hearted questions. Examples include: is a hot dog a sandwich? Do you like pineapples on your pizza? What’s your favourite season? 
  • Starting the class with simple games or problem-solving questions, such as trivia
  • Asking practical or informative questions: which generative AI tools have you used? How have you used them and why?

For more icebreaker ideas, explore these 200 icebreaker questions or icebreakers and team builders for diversity as a starting place.

Set up Group Introductions: 

  • For classes with group components, instructors can set up group-based discussion boards on MyLS and have students introduce themselves and start initial connections with their group members. In addition to sharing preferred names, students can share pronouns, expectations for the group or project(s), and could even answer an icebreaker question. Students can share info through text, audio, and images.

  • Students can also be given time for introductions in-class with group members if class and room size permits.

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At the Mid-point of the Course

Mid-Term Questionnaires

Mid-Term Questionnaires are structured evaluations that can be used halfway through the course (or thereabouts) to provide formative feedback on the course. Questions can centre on asking students about their learning experiences, what is or isn’t working, and where improvements can be made to provide more immediate and timely changes to the course to respond to student learning needs. Informal evaluations also allow you to collect evidence on your teaching that can be used for teaching dossiers and tenure and promotion to demonstrate effective teaching strategies and methods.

For more robust and constructive feedback, consider gathering this information in anonymous ways, as students can feel uncomfortable answering some questions and may be concerned about their answers impacting their success in the class.

To implement, a survey can be created on MyLS. See Creating Good Questions for Mid-Course Evaluations or use the following commonly asked questions as a guide:

  • What learning activities and/or materials are the most helpful for your learning in this course? Why?
  • What learning activities and/or materials are the least helpful and why?
  • What specific things could I change to help you with your learning in this course?
  • What are things you could do or change to help you with your learning in this course?
  • Where are you encountering challenges in this course?
  • Are you having any difficulties accessing the course materials/activities? If so, can you provide some examples?
  • At what moment were you most engaged as a learner?
  • At what moment were you most distanced as a learner?
  • What surprised you most about the class?

Use Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)

CATs are quick, informal check-ins that can be used with students to see where they’re at, how they’re doing with the materials and any struggles or issues they may be having with the course. CATs can be used to gather formative feedback on both instructional strategies and to help students recognize the steps they can take to enhance their own learning. 

Sample CATs for gathering informal feedback: 

  • More, Less, Same: Students define what strategies they want instructors to use more, less, or the same. Instructors can also ask students to define what they as students can do more, less, or the same of for the remainder of the course.
  • Start, Stop, Continue: Students define the instructional strategies that they want you to start doing, stop doing, or continue doing (and ask students what steps they can start, stop or continue).
  • The Four L’s: Students are asked what they liked, learned, lacked, or longed for in their learning.

For more ideas and examples, see Laurier's Guide to Teaching, Learning and Assessment, and 50 CATs by Angelo and Cross.

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All throughout Term

Ongoing Instructor Presence

Be available before and after class to talk to students and encourage students to come to office hours: Instructors can gain insights from student perspectives that may shape teaching decisions during the term such as how to focus class time to maximize learning, how to address course-related issues (like access to materials or technology), and how to confront any barriers to learning that students may be experiencing. 

Classroom Activities

Integrate informal activities on an ongoing basis or at key points in the term can help instructors collect ongoing feedback to gauge how students are doing and to provide ongoing support for building connections. The information gathered can help lead to adjustments or adaptations/clarifications that can then support students. 

Depending on the size of the class and whether the feedback should be anonymous, various tools can be used to gather feedback:

  • Polling software (iClicker, MyLS, mentimeter, or Zoom) to pose simple yes/no or likert scale questions
  • Provide class time for open discussion on how things are going
  • Exit tickets (index cards distributed at the end of class) or one-minute papers can be used for students to reflect on the session and provide information on one thing they have learned and a question they still have
  • One-minute papers or reflection papers: ask students to submit reflections on questions connected to the course
  • A course FAQs discussion forum on MyLS where students can pose course-related questions to one another throughout the term

Feedback Loops and Transparency

Carve out time in-class to share with students how collected feedback influences your teaching. Talk about changes you’ve made based on their suggestions and maybe even changes you’ve made based on previous course suggestions. Did you do a pre-course survey? Talk to them about the benefits for you as an instructor in having information from students before the course even begins. What was the purpose of asking students to share about themselves? Be transparent about the impact of student feedback to demonstrate its value on the course and instructional methods.

Gathering Feedback from TAs/IAs/Lab Coordinators

Discuss feedback with your course assistants and coordinators and see how they view student progress and what concerns they might have. In larger classes especially, TA’s, IA’s, and Lab Coordinators can provide feedback or insights on who the students are, how they’re doing and how they are engaging with the course material, which can help instructors tailor the course to the needs of the students.

Class Representatives

This strategy can work well in large classes where collecting individual feedback isn’t feasible. By having a few students act as representatives for the class, students still get to have an active voice in the class and are able to provide formative feedback to help enrich the learning environment. Instructors get valuable feedback that can help support or shape instructional strategies and activities, and students get to provide feedback to the instructor in a way that allows the course to feel more inclusive and reciprocal (Addy, Class Representatives Strategy).
To implement this strategy, decide on class representatives in the first week of class and then meet with them on a regular basis. Give time for class reps to collect input from the class and hold discussions with the students to then report back to the professor. Instructors remain connected to students without the daunting load of gathering feedback (and then reading/reviewing it) from hundreds of students, making it a more manageable and sustainable practice.


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Laurier Resources

Curated Resources


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