lecture hall

10 Effective Ways to Connect with College Students in Large Classes

Research indicates that students learn more and rate their class experience higher when they have a personal connection with the instructor. Here are ten practical ways to help that happen:

  1. Arrive early and stay after class. Shake some hands and welcome students as they enter. Wander to the back of the class and say hello. Ask how their day is going. Make small talk. Proactively get out from behind the protective podium! Say goodbye as students leave. Stay after class for 10 minutes. Tell the students you will be happy to answer questions, etc. We are all busy, but we can usually give 10 minutes after class.
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creating a climate for learning

Reflections on Teacher Power in the Contemporary Classroom

Teacher power has to do with the ability to influence student behaviors and, ultimately, what they learn and how much. My colleagues and I often lament that it is more difficult to influence student behaviors than it used to be. Much of what we know about power in the classroom is grounded in some rather outdated, but at the time useful, assumptions. In traditional classrooms, students used to submit to teacher authority with little resistance. Back then teachers influenced students to do things they would not have otherwise done by:

  • Promising rewards or punishments
  • Suggesting “I’m an expert, and this is what works for me, so you should try it too”
  • Asserting the authority inherent in their title, “teacher”
  • Developing good relationships with students as a way of encouraging them to comply
  • Managing their classrooms with policies and structures that force students to be on-task (like banning the use of laptops or tablets, side talking, absenteeism, or tardiness)

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student discussion activity

Scenarios to Facilitate Discussion on Student Entitlement

The scenarios here can be used to explore the salient issues, starting with a deeper understanding of what entitlement involves. Most of the definitions are clear, but pretty generic. The conversation gets interesting when it focuses on what entitlement looks like when students have it or do it. The scenarios highlight some situations typically associated with entitlement. The discussion could start with student responses and actions that illustrate entitled attitudes and beliefs. But not every student request or objection is an entitled one. Sometimes students have legitimate concerns. Could that be the case in any of the scenarios outlined below?

Another rich discussion area involves whether certain faculty policies or practices promote student entitlement. Greenberger et. al. (2008) asks about the circumstances within higher education that foster it. The discussion could encompass higher education, generally, but the focus on faculty is important. Are we part of the problem? Are any of the policies and practices described or hinted at in the scenarios encouraging the sense of entitlement? Grading systems that rely on points? Policies that allow for absences? Giving partial credit?

The most needed discussion is the one that explores faculty responses to entitled attitudes and actions. Is the best approach to take the offensive—start the course by clarifying expectations? Outright discussions of entitlement—what it is and why it’s wrong?

The scenarios have been purposely written with a certain degree of ambiguity. Some responses to them will reflect entitled attitudes and beliefs, however, in some cases, the student may have a legitimate issue. Students could start by first discussing whether the scenario reveals entitlement or a legitimate concern. You might find there’s some disagreement among your students in terms of what is entitled behavior and what isn’t.

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student evaluations

Improving Student Evaluations with Integrity

Oh, how the tables do turn! Each semester, after quizzing, testing, and otherwise grading our students, they get to return the favor and rate their professors, and some of them can be harsher than we are on our most critical days. Because administrators incorporate these ratings in their evaluations of us, they can’t be ignored. Rather than wallowing in the sorrows of negative reviews, we must accept it for what it is: feedback. And although we should not in any way compromise our principles or the course content to get better ratings, there are actions that don’t undermine our integrity and do positively influence the end-of-course ratings. I’d like to suggest several that have improved my ratings.

Be transparent about your grading methods. It’s my opinion that students should never be surprised by their grades in a course. Whenever I give an assignment, no matter how small, I provide instructions in writing, a point value, and a due date. I’m a huge fan of rubrics and always take time to help students understand and interpret them. Examples posted on the course website can demonstrate what you’re looking for in assignments.

I work hard to return papers in a timely manner and share my deadlines with students so that they know when to expect the feedback. Most online grading systems make it easy for students to monitor their progress throughout the semester. By removing the mystery from my grading system, I have consistently received high scores from students on the applicable questions on the evaluation form.

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Having a Conversation about Extra Credit

When it comes to extra credit, faculty are often firmly for or against. There are strong arguments to be made on both sides, and whether extra credit is appropriate for a given course depends on myriad factors.

This on-demand program gives you an opportunity to explore those factors in depth. Whether you’re approaching the extra credit decision for the first time or looking to revisit your existing policy, you’ll find this program to be an invaluable resource.

Having a Conversation About Extra Credit uses a scenario-based format to present a “real world” look at the issues. Narrated illustrations depict common positions on both sides of the topic, carefully exploring the pros and cons of each. The program outcomes change based on decisions made during the session.

After working through the program, you’ll be able to:

  • Articulate the pros and cons of various approaches to extra credit
  • Determine whether, and when, to offer extra credit assignments in your classes
  • Design assignments that promote meaningful learning
  • Create policies that are equitable for all your students
  • Understand and manage the impact of extra credit assignments on your workload

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Civility is Needed in the College Classroom—Now More than Ever

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”
(Attributed to Socrates, 469–399 BC, by Plato)

My grandmother often told me to “treat others as you would like to be treated.” I just assumed parents and grandparents told all children this variation of the Golden Rule. I was also certain well-meaning teachers, coaches, clergy members reinforced it. Yet what has happened to common decency and basic civility in society these days? Have they just become signs from days gone by? Do we no longer teach or practice the Golden Rule? I’ve actually heard this alternative interpretation of the Golden Rule: “He or she with the most gold makes the rules.” As faculty members, I believe we need to step up and start teaching civility and compassion in our classrooms.

“You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar”—another of my grandmother’s favorite expressions. As a child I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but I understand it now and often pass on this same sage advice. There is a related education quote that goes something like, "Students don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." I wholeheartedly agree. Students of any age benefit when they have teachers who care.

Who Most Needs to Model Civility?

Although each college has its own policies for both student and faculty conduct, as college professors “the buck stops” with us when it comes to controlling the climate and establishing the expectations for civil discourse in our classrooms. Professors need to model civility, and by that I mean much more than proper manners and etiquette, such as regularly saying “please” and “thank you.” I mean feeling actual empathy toward students. A syllabus, even if it’s posted online, says a lot about us before the course even begins. The same could be said about an introductory welcome letter for an online course. First impressions are important. That very first class should clearly set the expectations. Too often faculty miss this opportunity and just dive into their academic content without any attention paid to the culture that needs to be established in that course. We should all be good stewards, heed our grandparents’ advice, and foster a caring learning community imbued with mutual respect. If we don’t practice civility, empathy, and respect, how can we expect meaningful conversations to occur in our courses?

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How Student Learning Can Begin before the First Day of Class

The first time my middle school-aged son attended a Major League ballgame, he was astounded by what the players were doing on the field before the game. He saw some of his favorite players contorting in all sorts of positions: balancing, running backwards and sideways, even lying on the ground, some stretching their hamstrings with enormous rubber bands. One player even stood on one leg with outstretched arms. He could not understand why all those moves were required, since he never witnessed a single one of those motions in the game. But even through his misunderstanding, he did recognize something significant: all the players believed in what they were doing, even if he could not see the significance behind their pregame gymnastics. Essentially, my son saw the importance of the practice routine before the big game, even if he did not fully comprehend it. And even more importantly, he witnessed the characteristics of practice the players needed even if they performed in ways not directly related to the practice.

And so it is with college teaching. Students and their professors see the importance of the first day, that big game. But often they do not make the connection with the practice routine, divorced from the look and feel of when they’re keeping score during the semester. But even those professors and their students who recognize the primacy of practice can still find it difficult, even impossible, to find enough time on the first day to initiate such practice. After all, there’s the syllabus to go over, the structure of the class to introduce, names to learn and mispronounce. There’s so many activities for professors to do. And perhaps that’s the core problem. It is professors who are explaining, exhibiting, and demonstrating. They are taking on all the activities of practice that they want their students to enact. And while professors are practicing on the field, students assume another role and become the spectators in the stands, wondering why all this practice is necessary before they have to take the field themselves and play the big game.

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Four puzzle pieces

Four Things to Do on the First Day of Class

First impressions are important and you can make favorable ones on the first day of class by doing things just a bit out of the ordinary. Here are some ideas.

  1. If it’s a course where students don’t think they know anything about the content, start by dissecting course title. For each keyword, ask student to report (or write down) the first word or phrase that comes to mind. Make a collection of these on the computer or white board. Accept all associations. Then use the collection to provide an overview of the course, pointing out (where it’s appropriate) that students aren’t as clueless about the content as they may think they are. It’s also a useful way to establish a common foundation, the place on which you can start building the course structure.

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Screenshot of Having a conversation about a challenged grade

Having a Conversation About a Challenged Grade

Conversations about grades are difficult—particularly if you’re a newer faculty member and you haven’t experienced many of them.

But it is possible to make such conversations constructive—even instructive. This on-demand program, delivered in an innovative format, will show you how.

Having a Conversation About a Challenged Grade is a collaborative-learning course. It illustrates common student grievances about their grades, and provides effective strategies to turn discussions about them in a positive direction.

You will work through specific scenarios—e.g., a student protesting that he worked hard and did not get the grade expected, or that her classmates got better grades for similar work, or that you are simply being subjective.

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Learning the Lessons of Silence

“The lessons of silence.” I found these four words in Lao Zi’s book, the Tao Te Ching. I have been ruminating over them lately. In our modern society, more and more individuals fear stillness. In our classrooms, fewer students appreciate the sound of silence. Their faces light up when I give animated lesson presentations but wilt whenever I ask them to pause and think about the ideas we have just considered. Outside my classroom, I seldom see them minus headphones, earbuds, or cell phones. They (and some of the rest of us) have yet to learn that the most profound ideas are born in moments of silence.

In my teaching, it is in the moment of silence where I come to understand whether students are learning or not. It is when the whole class stares at me in silence that I realize I need to rephrase my question. It is when a student pauses while reciting that I see some concepts I’ve taught are not yet clear. It is when a student does not say anything but smiles sweetly that I know my ideas made an impression. It is in the silence of my classroom after the last student has left when I reflect on my own teaching that I better understand how to impact their learning. It is in the silence of my office after typing the last sentence in my manuscript that I learn to think deeply about what I have just written. There is an analogy that perfectly captures all of this for me: it is the silence that follows the first four notes of Beethoven’s fifth symphony. Those notes are meaningless unless one appreciates the sound of silence that surrounds them.

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