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What Students Wish You Knew (Spring 2020 Edition)

What students think may surprise you

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by Norman Eng in Blog
February 6, 2020 2 comments
Female Student Thinking

What is the ONE thing students wish professors would better understand? Aside from the obvious—that students have busy lives outside of school, that they take four other classes aside from yours—there are always new and insightful comments that give me pause.

For this edition I’ve focused on the small details that are easy to overlook. (For examples of previous blogs on this topic, see here and here.) Enjoy.

“I don’t mind spending money buying the course text. I don’t mind doing a 15+ page reading.

It’s only when there is no acknowledgement about the reading and/or follow up discussions the next class do I feel like I have wasted my time doing something. While it’s true that the reading is ultimately to benefit me and expand my knowledge and understanding, my understanding of the material can only be further developed through guided discussion and deeper thinking.”

“When a professor does not follow the syllabus, it creates extra stress for us because . . .  

. . . we were expecting one thing and got another. This is especially for classes that have a departmental final at the end of the course, or ones that we feel are important and we need to get things done. When a grade for an assignment is promised at the end of the week, and it is not given, that also causes anxiety. We would rather a professor not promise something than break that promise by having us expect something and not get it.”

“In classes where we want to learn, it especially bothers us if the professor goes off on a tangent and doesn’t circle back to the topic at hand.

We would love to hear about a professor’s life and experience as it relates to the course-load, and if they do veer off subject, it is important that we get back to what we are learning—otherwise the class feels like a waste of time and money. In closing, stay organized, stick to the syllabus when you can, don’t make promises you can’t keep, and don’t go off on a tangent too much.”

“I HATE doing group assignments outside of class.

Yes, I am a very social person; however, meeting up with strangers in a college course is the most difficult thing EVER. Everyone in college has their own schedules and collaborating and being on the same page can often be difficult. For example, one of my professors assigned a group presentation and none of my members responded to me until the day before! If I were to be doing it on my own the presentation would have been done on my time much earlier. It is unfair to add the stress of a group project to the natural stress of going to college to begin with.”

[Author’s note: Yes, we all know why we assign group projects; at the same time, this comment tells me we need to organize and consider the user experience of group projects more carefully!]

“The biggest issue I noticed [with professors] was passion pushing.

I watched student after student get metaphorically beat for not reflecting the same excitement for a subject as a professor. This is not an excuse for not doing work or skipping class, but this is something to be aware of as you’re teaching an intro course to a class. This also applies to majors that don’t specifically lead you to one type of career, such as business or psychology. I watched professors shame students for their specific interest in the field and students drop their ideas to become uniform to the curriculum. Students aren’t in college to become their professors. Any good teacher or professor should be looking to raise students that exceed the accomplishments they’ve achieved in their lifetime.”

“Some professors assign weekly assignments, such as a short response, 1-2 page reflection on readings or the class materials or they may assign longer paper. 

However, they either don’t give you back the paper or they give it back to you with only grade on it. And when you go up to them for questions about the grade, they can’t recall yours. Therefore, I wish professors read whatever we turn in and give some comment on our work to let us know what we do well and what we need to improve.”

“Sometimes a low grade on the exam does not mean the student is not paying attention (or not trying hard enough).

The topic may simply not be sticking to the student. For example, I took biology during my second semester, I tried and studied, and it barely got me through the class (I passed with a C). That class was a 4-credit course; consequently, it dropped my GPA. I am not saying professors should be handing out free A’s, however, they should always give students room for improvement. Whether it be through extra credit, test corrections, or going to tutoring. Allow the students who fell behind to catch up.”

“The same way [professors] expect students to give their assignments in a timely fashion we expect them to grade them as well.

There are times where students give in assignments and the semester ends, and they never receive any feedback. [As a result], when students receive their grades they do not understand why they got that specific grade. It’s unfair to make students work so hard on assignments and to receive no feedback. If one does not receive any feedback, how will one learn and expand their knowledge? Additionally, how will one fix their mistakes if they do not know where they went wrong?”

“One thing I wish professors knew is how important a break is.

During longer classes I’ve often heard professors ask if the students want to push through or take a break. In most cases the class replies they want to push through. I’ve been in that crowd because the idea of getting out sooner felt like more of a relief in that moment. I’ve noticed how taking that route decreases my ability to engage and retain what’s happening in class. Not only have I already set my sights on leaving, rather than being present and learning, but my mind so desperately needs a break that I mentally begin to check out. These breaks are important not just for more efficient mental functioning, but also for bathroom breaks. Sometimes we don’t want to step out because of the possibility of missing something important. I wish professors valued and used the break as it would also show students that even professionals deem it a smart and healthy part of being a hard worker.”

[Author’s note: This student is absolutely right. Despite the fact that we ALL want to leave sooner, the research confirms that breaks are incredibly important. Read more here].

“One thing I wish professors understood is that having the PowerPoint presentations available [after the lecture] can benefit students.

It is very hard to listen to a professor, write down any information from the board, and at the same time absorb all that information. All students are worried about is getting a bunch of words into their notebooks.

Personally, I just write down what’s on the board as fast as I can without taking a second to understand what I am writing. Having the presentations available allows students to closely pay attention to the professor and only write down additional information.

However, I do understand that some professors are afraid students will not come to class, but this can be solved. Professors can have each of the presentations available to the students [immediately] after the lecture is done. Students will still need to come to class to get any information, not presented on the slides, while knowing they don’t have to write every single thing down. One of my previous professors did this for my class and I’m truly grateful for it. I was able to fully immerse myself in the lecture and then come home to review what was covered.

I think everyone can agree with this, when it comes to experience, how hard it is to write down notes while the professor is teaching at the same time. Especially since most people aren’t good at multi-tasking. Then afterwards looking at your notes and not really understanding what you’ve written down can be infuriating . . . I think having professors uploading slides can really benefit everyone. If the students aren’t able to come to class, [then] they’re able to be caught up with the slide uploads. As well as if the students aren’t good at multitasking, they’re able to pay attention to the professor and not have to worry about writing down everything on the slide and worrying, which also another thing they have to deal with on top of everything.

[Author’s note: Clearly, students are anxious about missing important information on the slides, so they copy everything down, especially if they don’t think professors will allow access afterward. Maybe the point isn’t to give students these slides, but to present information in a way where they aren’t furiously scribbling. An outline to fill in, perhaps? My book, Presenting: The Professor’s Guide to Powerful Communication, provides some ideas.]

What do you think? Any thoughts you can add will greatly help our readers!

2 Comments
  1. John R. says:

    Another really helpful post! Love this series. It gets me to reflect and rethink about the best approaches to teaching. The one that caught my eye was “passion pushing.” never really thought that was an issue but seeing it from students’ perspective was eye-opening and nice to know. Keep these up!

  2. Megan says:

    Thanks for sharing. These are always insightful comments that make me reflect on my own students’ experiences.

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7 PROVEN STEPS TO PLANNING, TEACHING, & ENGAGING YOUR STUDENTS

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