Connecting students and teachers is a valuable part of the higher education experience, and encouraging these connections is far more important than ever. Today’s students are really looking for opportunities to build relationships.
It is interesting to think about pre-epidemic students and how, at that time, American colleges and universities were already in a place of very high awareness about the issues of anxiety and depression. And now, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, universities are welcoming students who did not go through the high school graduation ceremony, who did not necessarily have a personal social relationship with friends or their teachers, and who met their coaches from afar.
While we consider the difference between these students and those who came before them, it is helpful to consider that we are now looking at students who are ultimately going to be resilient because of what they have done. But for now, as the world has again opened up to personal opportunities, college students place more value on personal connections with faculty, staff and colleagues.
This has always been important. Looking back on my own college years, I can still tell who my favorite professors were and who I seemed to have a relationship with. Some of these connections lasted for many years. I think students in smaller colleges can see and feel valued they are going to see more students who want to establish these connections and can even start attracting more students than large institutions.
What can faculty members do to facilitate these connections since students cannot initiate them themselves?
They may plan formal activities such as emphasizing student engagement during personal or virtually consistent office hours. They can invite students enrolled in their course for a specific purpose during their office hours – not just saying that their door is always open and leaving the rest to their students, but also a dialogue for students explaining how this time can be used. A word of expectation or encouragement to be seen as an opportunity to create or participate in course-related activities. An example of such activity might be reviewing a draft assignment.
Faculty should be aware of the importance of their one-on-one use with students, not just for registration but for counseling. Question Faculty poses may intentionally go beyond determining which class a student wants to study in the next semester and include a wide range of questions:
- How r u
- What did you do this weekend?
- Which class are you enjoying the most?
- What are you thinking for the future?
- Do you have a group of close friends?
- Do you think you are the right major?
- Is this semester going well for you?
Generative consulting questions can help establish better connections.
I have seen faculty members very successfully engage in casual, engaging activities with students in their programs. They share ice cream, host potluck mixers, go on career-centric field trips, travel together as a small group in class-related places like a museum, and serve together in support of the larger community.
The transition to epidemics and virtual interaction has made many of these activities difficult to perform. Many of us have a good idea of how important these interactions are. They are a valuable opportunity to connect and attend outside of the classroom.
From experience, it is clear that students are very interested in working with faculty on research projects and learning more about their research topics. Also, briefly talking to students at campus events, saying hello and catching up on football or soccer games, or seeing them at campus concerts, can be a great way to connect on a more personal level.
Students may be hesitant or too scared to approach faculty at such public events, so faculty should consider taking the lead in breaking the ice, saying hello to a student, asking about their day, or whether they are enjoying the game.
Faculty encouragement and support
Often, colleges and universities can do a better job of encouraging and supporting faculty members who want to facilitate these connections with students. We can notice and value their best efforts, which allows teachers to set goals around their professional roles. And instead of thinking of making connections as something extra in the role of teacher and professor, it may be something that is actually essential to the role.
I believe Hartwick College faculty or many smaller colleges or universities will tell you that one of the best things about their job is the relationships they build with students.
At Hartwick, we have made a concerted, integrated effort to build strong relationships with students.
Most colleges have some of the elements of FlightPath আমাদের our future-oriented approach to education in that area, but not the systematic, integrated way that the Heartwick College community envisioned and implemented FlightPath. Hartwick’s four-year plan includes opportunities to evaluate abilities, explore majors and careers, hire services, meet alumni, showcase their work, design unique curriculum paths, and ultimately build a strong connection with Hartwick. His people
Sometimes there are obstacles or roadblocks that need to be overcome when students and teachers want to make these connections. We learned a few things about our changed communication methods and course delivery during the epidemic. Pre-epidemic, I don’t think there was any norm for keeping faculty office hours open for virtual meetings or virtual appointments with students. Faculty have told me that they found strong participation in appointments when they were virtual.
A faculty member from Champlain College, my previous institution, shared with me that 100 percent of his advice was gathered for full-day virtual counseling meetings during their appointments. This is the first time in more than 20 years that everyone has been involved in counseling students.
Going to a professor’s office for an appointment as a first year student can be scary. Students want connections, but they don’t necessarily start it. Virtual appointments are an easy, accessible entry point for students to engage with faculty, and I hope this method of communication continues beyond the epidemic.
At Hartwick, we have a large percentage of our students who engage in extracurricular activities such as athletics, music, art, theater, and on-campus empirical learning opportunities – and their days are full. Allowing for virtual appointments is a door that opens up another way to connect with their faculty. I believe we have learned that we can use virtual tools to connect rather than disconnect, and I predict that Google Meets, Zoom and InSpace will be here to stay.
“Which of your professors is currently choosing to teach when the class was supposed to be private?” A recent Student Voice survey of 2,000 undergraduates conducted by Inside higher ed And College Pulse with the help of Kaplan. This is interesting because there is something to be learned from some students who have been successful in the virtual environment and some faculty who have become proficient in teaching in this way.
While personal interactions have an undeniable quality, what we have learned from virtual interactions should not be discarded once the epidemic is over. We should expect increased interest in teaching and learning in online and hybrid formats. What have we learned, and what have we learned from this experience? I look forward to this conversation with the teachers.
The integral part of Hartwick’s flight path is “every student, every time.” This is a high commitment, and it is well-aligned with what student voice surveys reveal about what students are looking for. That means our door is open. This means we are using terms like “intrusive advice”. This means that any of us who work with students intentionally initiate positive interactions. I watched the flight path moments and felt proud to be a part of this initiative.
Models to meet the needs of students
While there are other functional programs on campus designed to support students by building better connections between large and small students and faculty, they are often the exception rather than the rule. In the interest of providing better services to students, I believe that higher education must meet the needs of today’s students.
Butler University in Indiana is doing just that, since it recently launched the Student Well-Being and Institutional Support Survey, its first national assessment to assess the impact of campus on students’ well-being. This includes evaluating how they feel about the quality of interaction with other members of their campus community, including faculty.
The fact that students are reluctant to start a dialogue does not mean that they do not want that interaction. It is up to the colleges and universities and their faculty and staff to take the first step.
Champlain College in Vermont, where I have previously served as Dean of Education and Human Studies, is another college where students are in the day-to-day work centers for faculty and staff and has multiple programs focusing on individual support. Currently, the faculties of both Steeler School of Business and Champline College Online are focusing their mentoring efforts on complimentary counseling to improve faculty / student relationships.
In these examples, the solutions are based on the understanding that students do not always start interacting with the faculty and that fact is also reflected in the Student Voice survey. Just because they are hesitant to start a dialogue does not mean that they do not want that interaction. It is up to colleges and universities and teachers and staff to take the first step.
All college and university executives should plan to improve these connections, think about the benefits of creating intrusive counseling and counseling programs, and how best to encourage faculty and staff to offer interactions. The Student Voice survey reflects the need for more campuses to encourage better communication and relationship building and raises two key questions: How do we open those doors and how can we do better for our students?
Read more analysis of Student Voice surveys on faculty perceptions, including coverage on how students want stronger connections with professors but rarely lead and how student feedback on professors is positive. Check out this Friday’s Student Voice page for a visualization of how students view the impact of the epidemic on faculty.