When it comes to connecting with students, good relationships and good rapport go hand in hand. The desired rapport develops when faculty are friendly, approachable, respectful, and caring toward students. And how do students respond to professors who’ve established good rapport? They “like” those professors, and that’s the point at which some of us experience a bit of nervous twitching. If students like us, does that mean they learn more? Does education hinge on the popularity of the professor? The ethical ground feels stronger if what students learn and take from their educational experiences results from actions that support learning. And that circles us right back to rapport and the powerful role it plays in determining how students respond to the content in our courses, their daily attendance, and the study time they devote to what we’re teaching. Student commitment to a course increases if rapport with the instructor is good. So, be nice, chat with students, and show that you love teaching.
Teaching and Learning
The past several decades have seen an interest in learning surge. It’s always been part of our educational endeavors, but the recent focus on it has been intense—that is, for teachers. Our interest is not shared by most of our students. They are still pretty much all about grades, preferably those acquired easily. They will work for points, but not very enthusiastically, if at all, without them.
For 10 years, I’ve been teaching study skills to college students, both individually and in the classroom. The vantage from my office offers me a clear view of students devouring information during tutoring appointments and focusing intently on the strategies shared during study skills counseling sessions. The effort and time they pour into comprehending their course material is irrefutable. However, when I ask students what they know about the lecture’s content before arriving at class, the answer is almost always the same: “Nothing.”
A large body of research has documented how students who report strong connectedness with college instructors reap many benefits, including: better persistence (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1978), engagement (Umbach & Wawrzynski, 2005), and effort (Kuh & Hu, 2001) in college, as well as greater academic self-concept (Komarraju, Musulkin, & Bhattacharya, 2010), confidence in their ability to succeed (Vogt, Hocevar, & Hagedorn, 2007), and grade point average (Anaya & Cole, 2001; Kim & Sax, 2009). In general, the research literature supports a strong positive correlation between positive student-instructor interactions—both inside the classroom and out—and student learning and development. What is unknown, however, is whether students are aware of these benefits.
When we learn something outside the comfort zone, we attempt to acquire knowledge or skills in an area where we’re lacking. Part of the discomfort derives from learning something we anticipate will be difficult. We have no idea how to do it, or we think it requires abilities we don’t have or have in meager amounts. Moreover, poor performance or outright failure lurk as likely possibilities. In other words, it’s going to be hard and require concentration, and what we’re struggling to do, others can accomplish beautifully, seemingly without effort. Their skills, and our obvious lack of them, raise questions about our merits as a learner and maybe even our worth as a person.
I don’t teach history, but I’ve always been a bit of a history and trivia buff. So, just for fun, I recently decided I wanted to memorize all the U.S. presidents in order. For the early presidents, I use a mnemonic that I learned in elementary school: “Washington And Jefferson Made Many A Joke” which refers to Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams, Jackson.
As a follow-up to last week’s post, here’s a final bit from my rummaging around old favorites in my personal library of teaching and learning resources.
The insights come from Roy Starling’s great piece in which he recounts his experiences of being released from his teaching responsibilities to take a full load of courses with a small group of undergraduates. It radically changed his teaching, as it did Marshall Gregory’s when he enrolled in an undergraduate acting class, and as it did mine when I took a non-major’s chemistry course with 20 first-semester students. Most faculty do not have time to take courses or they’re at institutions without programs that support these experiences. However, even short visits to a colleague’s class and experiencing it as a student (not a peer reviewer) yields insights about teaching and motivates change.
One of my New Year’s resolutions was to reread some of my favorite teaching and learning resources, especially those I haven’t looked at in a while. I’m enjoying these revisits and decided to share some random quotes with timeless insights.
Students who don’t carry their weight in a group continue to be a big concern for faculty who use groups and for students who participate in them. Most often faculty and students assume that these students are lazy and happy that they’ve landed in the group with others willing to do the work. And sometimes that’s the case. Some students are lazy. But research documents that this isn’t true of all students who aren’t participating in groups. Here are a few highlights from a study that considered how social-comparison concerns might prevent participation and approaches that help alleviate those concerns.
Should teachers strike?
How should government balance privacy rights with national security?
Should companies value their shareholders over the environment?
How quickly should a software company fix a known bug?
Regardless of discipline, faculty are faced with ethical issues in our classes around a variety of sensitive topics, and students will question the ethics of certain practices or topics in our field. As trained academics, we are not always comfortable having discussions where there is no clear right or wrong answer or talking about ethical areas in which we do not feel we are experts. So, how do you respond to students who really want to know “the answer” to these types of questions?