Teachers and students can give each other priceless gifts. “Professor Jones changed my life!” The comment is usually followed by the story of a teacher in love with content, students, and learning. How many times have I told the story of my advisor who was the first person to suggest I could be a college professor? We love to hear and tell these stories because they are remarkable and inspiring. A student and a teacher connect during one small segment of the student’s life, yet through that tiny window of time can blow a gust strong enough to change the direction of that life.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
Graduate students frequently get the chance to meet one-on-one with their professors. Yet at the undergraduate level, especially during the first year, students rarely get that chance, unless they take the initiative to come to office hours or schedule a meeting.
This is unfortunate. I teach first-year writing, and at least once every semester, I meet one-on-one with each of my students, usually to review a draft of their first paper. My students love these conferences, partly because they offer a chance for personal contact with their instructor, and partly because the conferences provide them with uniquely meaningful feedback.
As online education continues to grow, so does the potential for academic dishonesty. So how do you ensure your online students are not cheating on their tests? Bottom line, you don’t. But there are ways to stack the deck in your favor.
The good news is it’s not as bad as you think. A 2002 study by Grijalva, Kerkvliet, and Nowell it found that “academic dishonesty in a single online class is no more prevalent than in traditional classrooms” (Paullet, Chawdhry, Douglas & Pinchot, 2016, pg. 46). Although the offenders have become quite creative in their endeavors, the prevention remains the best defense.
I continue to be a huge fan of personal narratives, those accounts of teaching experiences from which the author and the reader learn much. They’re scholarly, thoughtful, and intellectual. They may start with “here’s what happened to me” but that launchpad rockets the author and reader to reflection, analysis, critique, and new worlds of understanding. These pieces of scholarship are good reading, even at the end of a long day. I strongly believe that our literature on teaching and learning is being impoverished by the reluctance of so many periodicals to publish these personal narratives.
Information cannot always be trusted. Despite popular opinion regarding the devastating impact of the Internet on the modern age, the inherent untrustworthiness of information is not new. Satire, misinformation, and disinformation have been circulating for centuries, even long before the printed word. However, thanks to the relative ease of creating and sharing content online, our students are confronted with publications created solely to entertain, persuade, and incite via incorrect or incomplete statistics.
We already do give students some choices. We let them choose paper topics, decide what to do for group projects, select subjects for artwork—and we’ve seen them struggle to make those choices. Most students don’t see selecting content as an opportunity to explore an area of interest, but rather an added burden of now trying to figure out what the teacher wants.
Trends toward increased enrollment of non-traditional students are expected to continue (Stringer, 2015). Discussions about nontraditional college students often highlight some of the challenges our adult students face, such as balancing work, family, and school commitments, overcoming previous academic patterns that no longer serve them, and adapting to new approaches to learning (such as online classes.) The flip side, though, is that many non-traditional students bring a wealth of personal and professional experience to their pursuit of a new degree, which serves to the benefit their academic cohort (Stringer, 2015).
In almost a decade of teaching, I find myself lamenting that I still have to remind students to arrive on time, bring the proper materials, and pay attention to lectures. Despite admonitions and penalizing grades, students still use cellphones, do the bare minimum to pass an assignment, and struggle with constructive criticism. I often worry, how will they ever succeed in a professional workplace with these behaviors? So when my college introduced extracurricular workshops to help students develop professional behavior, I decided to go one step further and incorporate professionalism into all my courses.
“Even with years of teaching experience since then [grad school TA experience], there were still areas of my pedagogy that remained as they always had been—unexamined and essentially running on autopilot.” So writes Kevin Gannon in an excellent piece on redesigning his exams (Chronicle of Higher Education, March 6, 2017). I appreciate the honesty of his admission and suspect it resonates with many of us.
Some of what’s unexamined in the practice of many faculty are what seem like intractable problems—say cramming and procrastination. Students have procrastinated for decades—some of us did when we were students and a few (?) of us still do. It’s a perennial problem for anyone who teaches, there can’t possibly be a solution or someone would have come up with it by now. In fact, that was basically the conclusion of a colleague who wrote to me recently. “My students procrastinate. It compromises the quality of their work and diminishes what they learn, but I’ve come to accept it as a given.”
First, we want everyone reading this to go ahead and lower their expectations. While the two of us are big fans of comedy and using humor in many walks of life, we aren’t terribly funny ourselves. But here’s the thing: that’s sort of the point. While we’re not comedians, we use humor as a teaching tool. And so can you!