I just read of the sad demise of Nalini Ambady, social psychologist at Stanford. Her research on the accuracy of first impressions connected with me (from the moment I first glimpsed it). As the NYTimes reports (Nalini Ambady, Psychologist of Intuition, Is Dead at 54) Dr. Ambady’s research on how people make snap judgements tells us just how important first impressions are.

For instance in an study (titled Half a minute: Predicting teacher evaluations from thin slices of nonverbal behavior and physical attractiveness; Ambady & Rosenthal, 1993) they

… had students view soundless 10-second videos of professors teaching. The students were asked to rate each professor, none of whom they knew, for qualities including honesty, likability, competence and professionalism.

When their responses were compared with evaluations from students who had studied with those professors for an entire semester, they correlated to a striking degree… the correlation held even when the videos were trimmed to only two seconds.

This study resonated with my instincts and this is something that I have taken to heart. It is for this reason that I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking of what to do on the very first day of class… That first meeting for me is crucial. Matt and I wrote up our reflections on this (designing the first day)… many years ago. Sadly, for one reason or another, this article never made it to print. For the record here it is: Designing learning from day one: A first day activity to foster design thinking about educational technology