I remember the first time I tackled the controversial subject of students as customers. It was in an in-house newsletter, well before the advent of the Internet and e-mail. Even so, I had numerous phone calls, memos, encounters on campus, and discussions about it in every activity the teaching center sponsored for the next year. I hadn’t even taken a side; I had simply listed arguments for both sides. But, as far as the faculty were concerned then and pretty much since, there aren’t two sides. Students are not customers. Tuition dollars do not buy grades. Education does not come with a money-back guarantee. And students don’t get to choose what they learn—well, they do, but if they don’t choose to learn what we require, the consequences are costly.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
Effective Classroom Management
After teaching statistics classes for more than 25 years and seeing so many students struggling to be successful, I became increasingly frustrated by the fact that no matter how much I believed myself to be approachable, available, and willing to help students outside of class, very few took advantage of the opportunity. I began to wonder not only what barriers existed between me and my students but also how to investigate those barriers and seek solutions.
Three articles in the February issue of the Teaching Professor newsletter deal with peer learning—a large category that includes activities through which students learn from and with each other. Peer learning gets troublesome for many faculty due to the idea that students are teaching each other. Isn’t that our job? Students aren’t paying all those tuition dollars to learn from other students and they aren’t shy about saying as much. Students are paying to be taught by experts. If we’re not the ones teaching, we sometimes feel guilty.
The line between collaboration and cheating is fuzzy. It’s still clear at the edges, but messy in the middle. When students are working in groups, searching for a solution to a problem, looking through possible answers for the best one, or sorting out material to include in a presentation, that’s collaboration. When one student in the group solves the problem and everyone else copies the answer, that’s cheating. When one student fails to deliver material she or he’s been assigned and the rest of the group covers, that’s cheating.
You gaze around the classroom, recognizing that a number of students are on their cell phones. Others are on their laptops, maybe taking notes but most likely using social media. A few are blatantly working on homework or assignments for other classes. Several students in the back of the classroom are avoiding your gaze, anxiously hoping not to be noticed. One student even appears to be asleep. A small group of students at the front of the class is stressed about the upcoming assignment. Welcome to the college classroom.
To: My Students
From: Your Professor
Re: Studying for Finals
The end of the semester is rarely pretty. You’re tired; I’m tired. You’ve got a zillion things to get done—ditto for me. You’ve also got grades hanging in the balance to be decided by how you perform on the final exam. The pressure is on, and it’s not just this course. It’s all of them.
I recently overheard a faculty member talking about students, and it wasn’t good. She sounded very much like a conference presenter whom Melanie Cooper describes in a Journal of Chemical Education editorial. The presenter’s talk had a strong “students these days” undercurrent.
Editor’s Note: The following article was excerpted with permission from To My Professor: Student Voices for Great College Teaching, a new book that brings together student experiences and opinions with advice from master educators and experts. The book was written by students at Michigan State University under the guidance of Joe Grimm, visiting editor in residence in the MSU School of Journalism since 2008.
“I spend a lot of money to go to school here. It would be nice if a professor knew my name.”
“I appreciate the fact that you asked me what I wanted to be called because my name has various pronunciations in different languages.”
We know students are afraid of making mistakes, often dreadfully so. And so we talk a good line about the learning potential inherent in mistakes.
But are we afraid to let students make mistakes? Is it just a problem with students not wanting to be wrong, or does our need to control learning experiences keep students from making mistakes?
I’m a strong believer in the benefits of students studying together, even though students don’t always understand or even experience the benefits. Oftentimes the potential gains of group study sessions are compromised by student behaviors. Students will saunter into study sessions, mostly not on time, sit around, check their phones, and socialize. When they finally start reviewing their notes, the text, or the homework problems, it’s all pretty superficial. There are very few questions, explanations, or confessions of confusion. The most intense conversation takes place over what they’ve heard from others about the exam and their hopes that it will be easy.