A New (Academic) Year

robyn augFor those of us in academia, this is the time our attention turns to the many new students we are about to greet and how to help them have the best semester possible. Like you, I spend days thinking about the ways I can facilitate their learning in the subject area as well in the more general (but important) category of “How to be a Successful Student in My Class.”

It is, of course, my responsibility to create the structure and active learning activities, vary my approach, remain available for extra help and present information using an engaging style. However, it is the student’s responsibility to be present in a way that makes learning possible. To that end, here are five statements I’d like put on a sandwich board. I’d roam the halls wearing it.

  1. Interact with us. If you interact with us in some way, we’ll easily remember your name. Come up and talk after class for a moment. Visit us during our office hours. Ask or answer questions in class. If you don’t do these things, please do not be offended if we can’t recall your name. Remember: this semester you have six professors, maybe. We might have 150 students. Interact with us.
  2. The syllabus and course schedule is not for our amusement. It takes us HOURS to develop your course schedule. There is no formula or template for professors to use. We don’t go to the Internet and copy and paste a random timeline. We create a schedule of activities and assignments that we believe is engaging and helpful to your learning. By giving this to you, you can come to class prepared.Read the chapters. Do the assignments. Be unsurprised by the case analysis work. The syllabus is your guide and your promise. It has items for which we are accountable to you and for which you are accountable to us.
  3. And while we’re talking about the course schedule…We may take occasional opportunities to remind you of due dates, but on the first day of class you will have all of them. (Please see above.) It is your job as a college student to stay on top of the work for the semester. The schedule is a handy tool to help you.
  4. Attendance is crucial. There are no truant officers in higher education—not that I’ve seen. But it’s still a good idea to attend your classes. When you miss classes you are missing opportunities to gain the benefit of not only our specific help, but also of our insights and examples as well as the insights and examples of your classmates. What benefit? Clear understanding of course concepts.
  5. Your character matters. Have integrity. Make sure your actions match your words. Be more than truthful—be forthright. Have consideration for your colleagues and your professors, too. (I promise we have great care and concern for you.) If you don’t know what else to do in a particular situation, simply be kind.

I admit it might be a bad idea to walk around the halls of education wearing this sandwich board. It would be too long and too heavy to carry. But my students hear these things from me every semester.

Some of them even listen.


Submitted by Robyn-Jay Bage

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4 thoughts on “A New (Academic) Year

  1. Publius, As a faculty, I too prefer on-ground classes. There is something qualitatively different about the interactions with students, and that in-person interaction is one of the reasons I teach. I also agree with you that a good online class is more time consuming than many people think–both for the student and the professor. Thanks for your comment!

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  2. I teach online courses too, and cannot imagine 2000 students. I suppose a reasonable person could argue the merits/problems of that monster class, but even with 30 or so students, careful attention has to be paid to the quality of the work planned and completed. That being said, in a reasonably sized class, interaction IS possible and necessary. Not every item has to be automated. If you’re paying attention (again in a reasonable class), you do have time to reach out to students who are under-performing. I also don’t ascribe to the notion of “self-paced” in online classes. When the students have specific weekly expectations, it is possible to identify those who may need more help.

    For what it’s worth, I agree–the “what were we thinking” question is coming. It’s just a matter of when. Thanks for your comment.

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  3. Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Robyn! While online courses do make a heavy footprint in academic today, there are still many professors like you who hold traditional lessons in a physical classroom. From my experience taking online classes, I find large levels of interaction there on discussion boards, through emails, and reading assignments which often end up being more work than traditional physical classrooms. So, from my experience, ALL of these points also apply in the virtual classroom.

    Being noticed happens on the discussion boards; attendance is often noted by level of participation on said discussion boards; the syllabus remains the roadmap for a virtual classroom as it is for the physical one; these also stress the importance of due dates. Finally, integrity remains even more paramount in the online setting when completing quizzes, tests, and papers. Moreover, some online discussions can become pretty heated if students do not maintain decorum and professionalism.

    The huge time commitment demanded by online classes actually prompts me to prefer the traditional route. At the end of the day, a good course depends upon a talented professor like yourself facilitating and an open-minded student body that practices mutual respect.

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  4. I suspect that we dinosaurs of education would find your suggestions most helpful; maybe 10 years ago. However, now with the huge increase in online course delivery with no personal contact with students; and, with the new massive courses now sporting as many as 2000 students per course per semester, there is virtually no contact with students and no feasible way to help individual students at risk for poor course performance. One day we may all look back and ask, what were we thinking? Well, we were thinking about enrollment inflation and how that would look when it comes to budget request time each year!

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