The Teaching Professor
August 1, 2007
In 1999 some colleges sounded an alarm against a phenomenon referred to as "mallspeak" that seemed to pervade student discourse. Student speech riddled with "likes," "you knows," and "whatevers." This kind of speech was not limited by context: it was used when students hung out in the cafeteria, when they were making presentations in the classroom, and when they found themselves in the "real world." This article describes a short writing/performance assignment that creates an awareness of the power and eloquence of well-crafted language.
How do faculty approach their development as teachers? Gerlese S. Akerlind has been using a qualitative research method known as phenomenographic analysis to try to answer this question. In this particular study, 28 faculty members at a research university in Australia were interviewed.
Most colleges and universities have fairly lenient drop/add policies. Students can drop a course well into the semester, and courses can be added during a short time window at the beginning of the semester or term. During that course add period, some students do course shopping. They sign up for a course, attend the first couple of sessions, then drop the course and replace it with another course. Some students course shop regularly and extensively. A group of researchers were curious about the details of this course-shopping behavior. They wondered how prevalent it was, whether students who course shopped shared any demographic characteristics, whether students shopped for some kinds of courses more than for others, and most important, if the behavior influenced GPA and course completion
Research starting in the '70s consistently and repeatedly documents the value of faculty-student interaction, especially when that interaction occurs outside the classroom. These studies tell us that such interactions help students make better career choices, aid students' personal growth, and make it more likely that students will graduate from college. Surprisingly, other than knowing that interaction with faculty benefits students, few details about the nature of those exchanges are known. The research cited below aimed to uncover more about the kind of exchanges that occur between faculty and students.
Although faculty would like to think optimistically, most know that when it comes to how much content students take with them from a course, even a course in their major, reality dashes optimism. This grim fact was confirmed in a study of students enrolled in a business consumer behavior course.
Given student motivation to get grades and the prevalence of cheating, most faculty would never seriously consider letting students grade their own work. However, self-grading, especially of homework, does accrue some significant benefits. It can move students away from doing homework for points to making them more aware of why and how doing problems helps them learn.
I like to arrive in the classroom well before the students. It gives me time to get things organized. I create an entrance table (I use chairs or desks if there's no table) that holds handouts for students to pick up. From day one the students learn the routine: they arrive, pick up handouts on the entrance table, and read the screen for instructions. They know what to do, and it saves time. Here's how I recommend introducing the routine on day one.
I happened on the idea of giving voucher points accidentally. A number of years ago while I was still teaching math in high school, a student came up with a particularly clever method of solving a mathematics problem. As a reward, I wrote him an IOU good for one point on any of my tests.
At the recent Teaching Professor Conference in Atlanta, I was privileged to have many great conversations on teaching. In one, my group of six contained only one English professor—me. While discussing what our students know (or more frequently don't know) about the citation of sources in research essays, many of my group members expressed their exasperation over what the English department was failing to teach our students. It was not the first time I'd heard such complaints, nor, I fear, will it be the last. I do, however, have some responses to these frustrations.