Quick IDEAs for Better Teaching

A collection of our ongoing IDEAs for faculty


March 2019
What Would You Do?

It’s that time of the semester again when Jan, an assistant professor of biology in her second year of teaching, reads her student feedback from courses she just taught. As usual, the ratings are OK but not what she wishes students felt about her and her classes. Last semester, her chair suggested that she needed to work on “getting more connected” to students as there have been frequent comments like, “uninterested in me as a student” and “doesn’t care,” and grades in the courses she teaches are a little lower than they had been in previous years. 

Those comments, and others like them, hit her hard. She does care she insisted to her chair and is really unsure why some students think of her that way. There are always a few students who seem to connect with her. They even come by her office from time to time to chat. But she knows most students do not respond to her that way. She’s been called “stern” before, but she dismissed that label as a complaint from students who do not appreciate her high expectations of them.

“Teaching is not a popularity contest” she recalls one of her graduate school mentors telling her, and the idea of intentionally trying to make a connection with students feels so manipulative to her. “Asking my students how their weekend was on a Monday morning just feels so fake to me,” she told her chair. “I’m really not interested in hearing about the football game and the party afterward,” she added. “That’s just who I am.” But he insists that this is something she needs to work on.

Does she? Can an instructor be highly competent in the discipline, skilled at explaining things, and still be lacking because of students’ feelings about her? What would you do? 

Read others’ suggestions and add your own.


So what would you do? Is Jan right that she cannot move toward a more friendly way of interacting with students if it doesn’t fit her personality? Or does she need to attempt a different way of interacting with students? And if so, how should she go about it if it doesn’t come naturally to her?

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In response...

I would try to step back and think about the course as a whole and how I am approaching it. I would focus on the the needs and interests of students taking my course, and then make attempts to make changes to assignments or content as needed to better align with the students' goals. I can learn this about my students through a pre-class survey, a first week discussion/activity in class, or an assignment. This way, I am connecting with students in a way that is directly relevant to the course, a way that does not require changing my personality. I am always concerned when students think that I don't care about them, and I'd dig a little deeper to find out more about this. Sometimes students become overly concerned with grades and due dates and feel personally offended when I uphold a known course policy. I try to be flexible when I can, but also know that sometimes giving endless extensions is not feasible or helpful for anyone. Inviting students to discuss issues as they come up might be a way to mitigate this challenge. Clearly communicating to students that I do care about their learning and success in the course, in class and one-on-one, would be a priority for me.


Jan should consider becoming male. She will instantly have less cultural expectation of being nurturing and her businesslike demeanor will become an asset rather than a liability.


January 2019
Connecting with Students Early in the Semester

You’ve thought a lot about building your course to get students interested in your subject and ensure they learn what they need to in your course, yet here in the first days of the term, it’s also time to think about starting off right in how you relate to your students. Read more...


November 2018
Handling Hot Topics in the Classroom

By now, you and your students have been in full-throated discussions this term about all kinds of topics--some planned, some unplanned. As most of us know all too well, such discussions can often get out of hand to the point that learning is shut down and anger boils over. It seems to be a common problem outside of the classroom right now, but it is--and always has been--a challenge for instructors to manage such discussions in a productive way.  Read more...



 

September 2018
Catching Students Before They Get Too Far Behind

A few weeks into the new semester, and hopefully, things are on a roll for you. The question is, are things on a roll for your students? As you well know, when students get behind in a course, things can get out of hand quickly. Like a rock rolling down a hill--getting faster and picking up other things along the way--once a student feels left behind, they can easily get discouraged and give up. The reality in many cases is that this scenario can be prevented with the right kind of effort applied in the right places. But students often need help with this. Read more...


 

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