Do we communicate more with students in writing than we used to? I think so. In addition to the course syllabus, the usual handouts, and written feedback on papers, projects, and performances, we now share all kinds of electronic messages with students. We exchange emails, post announcements on course management systems, and participate in online discussions. Those who use PowerPoint tend to make rather text-heavy slides. And if you happen to teach online, then virtually all your communication with students occurs via some written format.
There has been an increase in the number of universities relying on graduate students to teach undergraduate coursework in recent years. In some universities, such as Purdue and University of South Florida, up to 26 percent of undergraduate courses are taught by graduate instructors (U.S. News and World Report, 2017). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018), there were over 135,000 graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) in 2017.
As more English Language Learners (ELL) arrive on college campuses, it is imperative that institutions of higher education seek ways to engage and provide a supportive learning environment. An ELL student needs assessment was conducted at a small private college. Participants in two focus groups consisted of seven students from Bosnia, Burundi, Canada, El Salvador, Honduras, Jordan, and Vietnam.
As educators, we are privileged to build relationships and help thousands of students reach their full potential each year. At times, we have had nearly 750 students in our first-year undergraduate anatomy course, which meant that we were graciously offered the support of approximately 20 learning facilitators for that iteration of the course. First off, we acknowledge that the official term used in our institution is Teaching Assistant (TA), but let’s be honest—we are in this as a team, so let’s break down that hierarchy of who really is the “teacher” here and who is the “assistant.” We call them learning facilitators regardless of what their contract says.
In the online class environment, students enjoy many advantages, such as increased scheduling flexibility, ability to balance work and school, classroom portability, and convenience. But there are potential shortcomings as well, including the lack of student-instructor interaction and a student not understanding the instructor’s expectations. A key mechanism to convey expectations while increasing student-instructor communication is relevant, timely, constructive, and balanced instructor feedback.
As an online instructor, I require my students to engage in weekly discussion forums. In the online college environment, discussion forums are designed to simulate a professor and his or her students engaged in a traditional classroom discussion. Students respond to a question and then reply to the responses of their classmates. The point is to keep the discussion moving, keep students engaged in the topic for the week, and facilitate learning.
It’s the first day of class. They shuffle in, spot similar life-forms, and slip in with that group. Hipsters sporting wild hair and tats, buttoned-up and serious young scholars, middle-aged moms and dads, maybe a couple of aging hippies. One or two sad souls choose spots isolated from the others; they don’t want to identify with them for reasons of insecurity, arrogance, or something else.
It had happened before, sitting at the computer, working on a syllabus, again, fluctuating between excitement about a new course and a vague sense that life itself was being sucked out of me one sterile byte at a time. I was fighting boredom. And this was supposed to interest students? I tried to imagine it igniting their curiosity, but instead I saw them staring at it with the enthusiasm saved for the fine print on a life insurance policy. But they must read it. It is their life insurance policy for a future full of knowledge and wisdom! It defines how we’re going to relate! As I sat there writing my syllabus I had a vision of the Ferris Bueller video of the professor droning on and on while asking for input: “Anyone? Anyone?” That was not where I wanted to go. I had to stop and rethink what I was doing.
In “Good Teaching as Vulnerable Teaching” (The Teaching Professor, December 2012), Rob Dornsife of Creighton University invites us to embrace the uncertainties teachers encounter. The article prompted me to invite colleagues also to embrace being strict when the conditions warrant it.