June 21, 2016

Tell me what you want, what you really, really, want

Have you ever taught a course thinking it was going great - students were engaged, they were participating, and they completed all their assignments. Then, you receive the course evaluation forms and your heart sinks.

In the depths of your reflection, you drown yourself in questions like "what went wrong?" "what didn't they like?" "were they unhappy?" "what did they think the course was about?" and so on. The surface of the water is nearing, and with this article I will stop you from sinking any further.

My personal teaching philosophy is that satisfying teaching experiences come from designing worthwhile learning experiences. In my research, I have found some who support my position on the student experience. To achieve this, I believe we need to consider the expectations of the instructor, the institution, and the student.

In the book Student Engagement Techniques, Barkley states that there should be an open dialogue between institutions and faculty about how important different teaching strategies are to student success, how often these strategies are used, and what a teacher believes is important to a certain course (p. 43). Robert Smallwood (2008) , supports Barkley  by saying that “in many respects, [student engagement is] a three-way partnership between students, faculty, and administration that results in a classroom environment conducive to maximizing adult learning” (pg. 42).

When the institution and faculty are in constant communication about what is being delivered, and how it is being delivered, student success will be achieved. In adapting this philosophy, change is inevitable. The main change will be changing our thought patterns to include thinking about what our students want from us - what they really want. 

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) asked students to describe a time when they felt they were engaged and motivated when learning. They identified a number of ways teachers can help build a worthwhile learning experience. If institutions help teachers use some of the points mentioned, like showing teachers how they can make a difference, making them feel important, and bringing out their best selves, they will find the strength they need to make change.

Recommendations made by the OUSA (2010 Student Survey) include: 
  • institutions establishing and adequately maintaining instructional support programs in order to encourage innovation in teaching 
  • provide professional development for instructors
  • appointing a teaching and learning leader in each department to work with their colleagues in improving the department’s teaching, learning and assessment strategies
  • to assist in reviewing and designing curriculum
Key changes must take place in order for teachers to change to learner-centered teaching, as proposed by Wiemer and Blumberg in Elizabeth Barkley's Student Engagement Techniques. Their model serves as a guide for teachers and consists of a 7 step process where teachers analyze the balance of power, function of content, role of the teacher, responsibility for learning, and the purpose and process of evaluation (p. 88). Learning and following this process will only help to empower teachers and institutions in facilitating change.

Jose Bowen, in his book Teaching Naked, states “we like to think of students as our product rather than our customers,” (p. 217) and that we need to become more focused on designing learning experiences (p. 246). To help design student learning experiences that build appeal and bridge the expectations gap, here is a list of 15 things students really want from teachers. Remember, and this is most important, without students, we are unemployed.

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