Every semester I teach a journalism course at the University of Kansas on design basics for 80 to 100 students. One day I noticed that a student who attended every class had not been turning in his weekly journal assignment.
I asked him to see me after class. As we talked in my office, he began to cry and revealed he’d been under a lot of personal stress — taking classes while trying to work 30 hours a week at IHOP to help his mother and pay his own bills. His biggest need was money, and I managed to get him some immediate financial support from the university. But he was also enormously relieved just to tell me what was going on in his life — he had no idea, he said, that professors noticed students.
One of the key lessons I’ve learned in 28 years of teaching: Show students you are invested in them, and they will feel a lot more invested in the work they do for your course. It matters to them that you care, not just about their academic performance, but about their well-being. Over the years, I’ve found that when students know you care, they will try harder and be more open to constructive criticism.
My experience is supported by major studies, including the longitudinal, multi-institutional Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education and the Gallup-Purdue Index Report. Both sought to identify the practices and conditions that influence student success. A key conclusion: While inclusive-teaching methods are important, students need a professor who makes a personal connection with them, who cares about them as people, and who encourages them.
Does that observation seem obvious? Maybe. But based on the results of both studies, students don’t see it practiced much in the classrooms of many of their college professors.
In a journalism course I teach with a colleague, Peter Bobkowski, we annually (since 2017) survey our students about how their experience in college is different from high school. We’re interested in what a college instructor can do — especially for first-year students — to help them adjust to college courses.
One thing students say repeatedly: They find it harder to connect and communicate with… (continue reading)