Student Panel

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One of my colleges recently sent out a beginning-of-semester newsletter that included an interesting article: they had a student panel weigh in on what students want faculty to know.

I’m listening!

Here are most of their points, rearranged a bit and with a couple of notes:

 

1. Students Want Feedback

They want to know when they’re doing great and when they’re not. They want to know what their grades are, and they want us to notice and approach them when they’re absent or missing assignments. And they want to be referred to strategies and supportive college resources.

2. Intro Activities: “Authentic” and Names

Introductory activities should be “authentic” and help everyone learn everyone’s name. I’ve never been sure what exactly authentic means, so I usually put it in quotes. But I think here it means not too cheesy, and helping people really get to know each other. Thinking through my Activity Corner ice-breakers, I think Conversation Jenga, Quick-Switch Conversations, and One-Question Surveys, among others, might fit the bill. Do you agree?

I also recommend doing what a lead teacher of mine has done: have students make name placards using marker on a piece of card stock, and write their names on both sides. Collect them at the end of each class and set them in the front of the room for students to pick up as they enter each day. This way, name tags are always there and people can learn the names of people in front of them. This can also help the instructors, though I urge instructors to actively study student names so they’re down pat as soon as possible.

3. Show Enthusiasm for the Course and College Life

Students want us to be excited about our subjects – it helps them feel engaged. It’s OK to show that we’re total geeks! Whew!

To this I add a personal note: there are geeks who can’t wait to welcome new geeks into the fold, and there are geeks who look down their nose at the outsider philistines. Be the first kind of geek.

The students also pointed out that students need encouragement and specific suggestions to get involved in college life. I think this is especially important on commuter campuses. For us ESOL teachers, a quick plug for the international student club, Model UN club, field trips club, sports teams, and other relevant campus organizations could be the difference between our students feeling isolated and our students finding a way to plug into the campus community.

Of course, some of our students are middle-aged, working full-time, raising a family, and taking classes at night with no time for clubs or other such “kid stuff,” so be mindful of that, too. Not everyone is looking to get involved, and that’s OK.

 

Thanks to this college for sharing some student feedback! More on student feedback on Thursday.

 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Powell on Flickr

You’re reading Student Panel, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

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Conference Thoughts

Rewired State Presentations by Ben Dodson on Flickr
Rewired State Presentations by Ben Dodson on Flickr

(At the end of this post I ask a specific question about my tone.  Please tell me how I come across!)

I recently attended a small conference (maybe 80 or so participants) for half a day.  There was some good information and valuable context, very little of which I absorbed.  In short, here’s why:

  • I was not on board with the theme.
  • I could not see the speakers or Power Points properly.
  • The answers we needed were not there during our small group discussions.

A bit more on these points:

Not On Board

The conference was about distance learning, mostly about how we’ll be doing a lot more of it.

Well, ok.  Yes, there are many benefits, and yes, there is potential for us to reach more students.

But what about the fact that most teachers teach because they love the in-person interaction?  What about the fact that many of our students attend class as much for the social connections as the content?  What about the interesting combination of emphasizing things like additional trainings and “designating a distance learning staff member” while talking about looming budget problems?

These were issues on the minds of everyone I talked to, and the conference did not address them.  They were talking, and the participants were thinking, and they were not necessarily about the same things. I think they really missed an opportunity here by not meeting the skeptics where they were at.

I Couldn’t See

saving lives in church basements by smussyolay on Flickr
saving lives in church basements by smussyolay on Flickr

Ok, full disclosure: I arrived five minutes after the program started.  Sitting in the back was my fault.

That being said, lots of people had to sit in the back – there wasn’t room for everyone in the front.  All of us sitting in the back trying to see the Power Points and speakers had to contend not only with the people sitting in front of us, but with floor-to-ceiling support poles.  Not the greatest space.  In the future, no poles.

And now let’s talk about the PowerPoints.  They had a ton of tiny text, often in colors that didn’t have much contrast.  The presenters appeared (from what I could tell) to use them as notes.  Where does the nonprofit obsession with Best Practices go when it’s time to bust out a PowerPoint? Seriously, we can do better.  Seth Godin has some great pointers.

The Answers Weren’t There

Thankfully, the organizers did not plan an all-PowerPoint program.  For the second half they broke us into small groups with facilitators and well-thought-out questions to discuss.

The discussions were very “Collective Intelligence,” intended to have us share our knowledge.  We discussed some common fears too:  What if my job changes in a direction I find utterly mind-numbing (i.e. computer/internet troubleshooting)?  How is administration going to support the additional trainings I’ll need?  What assurances do I have that my other work will be reduced when I start taking on this new distance learning work?

My group actually did a great job of not focusing on the negatives or the potential negatives.  Still, it would have really helped us to be listened to and have some of those fears assuaged (or at least noted).

We took notes, and the organizers collected them at the end to type up and email out to our groups.  I really liked that.  They never said whether they plan to read them for content and respond to them though.  I very much hope that our notes are taken as an opportunity to listen and reply – the higher-ups and our students both need us folks in the middle to be on board.

So… on the spectrum of whiny vitriol (0) through groundbreaking problem-solving (10), where does this post land?

Bridesmaids and Best Practices

I’ve been extremely distracted with personal things for the past week plus, and one of those distractions was being a bridesmaid in a good friend’s wedding.

The Story

Several of us visited the site of the wedding a few weeks ago.  It’s a gorgeous outdoor site about 45 minutes from the Twin Cities.  We talked about the general plan for the audience and the general direction of the procession.  We talked about meeting in a different place and processing from an unexpected direction.  We had the rehearsal in the Twin Cities the day before the wedding.  We weren’t at the actual site because of the commute.  We talked about spacing and order and meeting times all of those good rehearsal things.

Bridesmaids, 1949 by JIGGS on Flickr
Bridesmaids, 1949 by JIGGS IMAGES on Flickr

The day of the wedding, we were dealing with unexpected and unexperienced things.  We were putting up a few decorations, enlisting the help of friends who had arrived early, and navigating effective communication with important people we didn’t really know, such as the parents of the bride and groom. There were nerves and deadlines and uncomfortable shoes – it was just totally different to be there than it was to plan it.

While in the thick of this reality, I completely lost any sense of those plans we had made weeks ago and even the day before.  I remembered most of them, but they somehow didn’t seem relevant anymore.  Everything around me was totally different than it was when we had made those plans, so my instinct was to improvise.

Looking back on that instinct is frustrating.  I knew exactly what I was supposed to do, but I felt compelled to go against it and start from scratch .  It’s kind of ridiculous.

The Point

The point of this is that I see parallels in nonprofits.  Most of us have a great idea of what the best practices are, from communication to filing to education.  We have a plan.  But then we come to deadlines or audits or budget cuts and there is a definite instinct to toss the plans out and start from scratch.

How can we not only share best practices, but do so in a way that acknowledges that they’ll feel way different in the midst of actual reality?

Has anyone else noticed this instinct?