Slackerdude47: awsome, CU Tuesday
Professor Proper: My door is open...
he seemed intrigued. He consulted the text in the original Greek, and we
had a conversation, about the nature of Greek tragedy, and the pitfalls
of translation, and how all this would come together in the paper I’d be
handing in the following week.
I don’t know if the encounter improved the quality of my paper, but
the fact that I remember it 30 years later, with poignant fondness, sug-
gests that it had a positive and lasting impact. And I wonder: would an
undergraduate student today feel comfortable tapping on the door of a
renowned scholar to discuss a nagging academic question? Would she
bother? Or would she be content to e-mail a quick q, or surf the Internet,
perhaps finding the answer or something serviceable through a database
or, Furies forbid, Wikipedia? And would that be some kind of loss in the
course of her education?
Most faculty members probably would say yes to that last question, but
most would also admit that the tradition of professors holding set, live,
office hours, during which eager students present themselves looking for
answers to such questions or merely to connect face-to-face with the person
teaching them, is waning, due to lack of customers. At a time when texting,
e-mailing and 24/7 access to oceans of information make human interac-
tion less a necessity, and quick feedback the norm, many professors find
that even though their doors are open, few students come knocking.
“Now, obviously, anyone can set up two, three, or four time slots dur-
ing the week to open the door to whoever drops by, but so few students
bother to take us up on the offer,” writes English professor Craig Monk,
associate dean of arts and science at the University of Lethbridge, on his
popular blog, “The Classroom Conservative” ( www.craigmonk.com). Even
a colleague he describes as “the most popular teacher in the department”
sees only a “trickle” of students.
Alan MacEachern, an associate professor of history at the University of
Western Ontario, discussed the topic in 2007 in “The Academic Alphabet,”
then a regular column for
. In “O is for Office Hours,” he
said that on arriving at Western, “I flung open the door, signaling my own
openness, my willingness to talk to students … in the intervening years
my office door has slowly, incrementally, been closing.” Today, says Dr.
MacEachern, the “growing informality” of campus life has led to a further
decline in the number of students who seek live time with professors
during office hours. “Now everyone wants to text or communicate by e-mail,
with lower-case ‘hullo’ and 30 words vomited out. We simply don’t have
as much contact as we used to.”
It’s certainly true that e-mail messages (I became particularly fond
of the ones I got from a first-year college student that always began “Hey
Miss”) are a quick and easy way to communicate. That doesn’t mean, adds
Dr. MacEachern, that he and other faculty members aren’t interested in
cultivating more in-depth connections with students, or don’t want to see
them face-to-face now and then. E-mail, though convenient, can some-
times lead to misunderstandings – tone can be hard to convey and easy
to misinterpret. And while electronic learning systems – with discussion
boards, announcements, web pages, links, classroom clickers and wikis –
are part of the regular curriculum, many still believe that live interaction
with students is an essential part of the academic experience, and they
seek ways to foster it.
Students need some incentive to visit a professor’s office, especially when
the students are new on campus and the prospect may seem intimidating,
says Adam Chapnick, deputy director of education at the Canadian Forces
College in Toronto and an associate professor of defence studies at Royal
Military College of Canada. An initial face-to-face contact doesn’t have to
be long and involved. “I think we overestimate the amount of time it
takes to do a quick meet-and-greet,” he says.
It’s best to be strategic and purposeful with the time spent in an office
meeting, but not establishing meetings can have detrimental consequences
for both professor and student. “If you don’t get them in [to the office]
during the first month,” he maintains, “it’s over” when it comes to estab-
lishing any kind of one-on-one rapport.
One method he’s used is a survey designed to get to know the student,
including such questions as: “Are you currently working at a part/full-
time job? How long does it take you to get to class from home/work?
What would be helpful for me to know about you as a learner?”
More than this, Dr. Chapnick has instructed students to come up
with three questions for him as well. Often, he says, they’ll ask what made
him go into teaching. As encouragement for those who participate, he lets
them know that if they do, he’ll round up any of their marks ending in
“ 9” to the next level (i.e., 79 goes up to 80 percent). About two-thirds of
students in his classes have dropped by.
Marks, though, aren’t the issue. Humanizing each other is. “I think it
creates a much more mature atmosphere in the classroom when they feel
I know them. It’s harder to disappoint the professor when you’ve estab-
lished a personal connection.”
There are faculty members across the country who share this view.
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