I've been thinking about changing what I do on the first day of classes. In past years I've basically done a fast information-dump about the course and then dived right into content (shaking them up with the role of natural selection in the origin of life).
But this year I'm hoping to shift all of the classes in this course to less information-delivery by me and more thinking and doing by them. And it's important do actually do this on the first day. So I'm going to be asking them for input on what they hope to get from the course.
I also think that my default expectations have been shifted by spending the past 6 months developing learning objectives for the first-year biology courses. Learning objectives need to be stated as actions the students should demonstrate ("can do X, can explain Y, can interpret Z", not just states we want them to achieve ("understands X, knows Y"). I'm going to tell the students this, in the context of introducing the existence of learning objectives, and then I'm going to ask them to write down for me, not what they want to learn or understand or know by the end of the class, but what they want to become able to do.
I expect this will take some prompting, so I'll give them some examples: "I want to be able to explain to my parents why my sister has Down syndrome"; "I want to breed healthier Siamese cats"; "I want to help save polar bears from global warming"; "I want to help develop an AIDS vaccine". These goals are rather lame and/or unreasonable, but their only purpose is to stimulate the students to think of other ones.
I'm hoping this activity will accomplish several things. It will give me feedback that I can use in later classes. It will give them a chance to influence the course. It will require them to write. They will be encouraged to discuss their responses with other students (I'm not sure yet how best to do this). Most importantly, they'll experience (not just be told) that they are expected to do things in class, not just sit passively and watch me.