Although it doesn’t always show, I value my education at Linfield. I think learning is one of the coolest things in the world.
That’s why I find it so frustrating when professors teachinadequately. Don’t get me wrong: Many of the professors at Linfield are amazing at what they do and are great people in general. However, education is a difficult art to perfect, and teachers are only shortchanging their students by not constantly trying to improve their methods.
It’s easy to get stuck in a routine that seems to work, but if the routine isn’t that great, it can be deadening to students. For example, if a professor has reading assignments required every day and then just lectures on exactly what was read in the text, class becomes counterproductive and often boring. Why should I come to class if my professors are just going to rehash what I’ve already read? Or, on the other hand, why should I do the reading if they are going to cover the exact same material in class the next day?
I remember being quite surprised during my freshman year when I discovered that many students simply wouldn’t do any of the assigned reading if they could get away with it — and they do. In some classes, you can do little to no reading and still get an A.
If professors are going to assign reading in a class, there needs to be some incentive for students to actually read the material. Simple reading quizzes have worked well for me, but lecture material also needs to cover more than just whatever is in the textbook.
Books provide the facts, but professors need to provide and encourage analysis, particularly in terms of class discussion. This means asking probing questions (not just summarizeing what has been read) and facilitating discussion. If no one answers, don’t just answer for the students or call on the kid who always wants to answer. Wait until someone does answer or force someone else to.
Textbooks aren’t always interesting, but professionals have the ability to make them so. Ideally, this will make students want to read so they can talk more in class. Some students won’t care either way, of course, but they still deserve the opportunity to engage in class. If you allow that much and push your students enough, overall engagement will jump at least a little bit and students who are genuinely interested in the course material will get a chance to flourish.
Professors should constantly be experimenting with different methods of teaching to find what works well for them and for their students. This means breaking out of the old reading and PowerPoint-based lecture model if necessary. One of the best teachers I ever had taught at my high school and he often used PowerPoint presentations, but they rarely, if ever, had any text. These slides featured pictures and graphics that helped students remember all of the different concepts in class.
I’m sure it’s nice to have lectures textually organized, but PowerPoint is a visual tool and has a ton of potential if used efficiently.
I don’t mean to tell professors how to do their jobs, but, in reality, students are the best place to look when it comes to seeking advice on teaching. Course evaluations are convenient, but nobody actually takes the time to fill them out thoughtfully because they don’t want to hold up the student who has to deliver them at the end of class.
These are just a couple of points that I think professors could improve on. Students will still always have to take that initiative to engage in their learning, but professors have a responsibility to open as many doors as possible for students. We should never settle for less when it comes to education.
Braden Smith/Managing editor
Braden Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.