Who are the students?
Get to know them.
It benefits everyone when faculty know their students.
Faculty interest in students as human beings – and individuals – can influence student participation, risk-taking, and persistence. Students are more motivated when faculty connect their course material to their present and future professional interests. Showing concern for students makes faculty seem more approachable, which helps students who have questions.
Although we’ve prioritized positive relationships between faculty and students for a long time at Elon, the scholarship confirms that frequent and high-quality faculty-student interactions matter for academic success. They matter for all students, but especially for students of color and first-generation students.
Understanding groups of students
It’s important that we get to know our students as individuals, but it can also be helpful to know about the experience of groups of students and Elon’s overall student body.
Common sense and personal experience tell us that it’s not easy to be one of a small minority on a campus or in a class and that it’s not easy to belong to any group for which there are stereotypes.
But research tells us that it’s more than just difficult; stereotype threat can negatively impact student academic performance. Learn more about stereotype threat and how you can reduce its impact. Learn about students with autism-spectrum disorder, international status, and LGBTQIA students.
How can you get to know your students?
Most faculty ask students for information in a confidential manner on one of the first days of class. They tend to ask both specific questions and open-ended ones.
Specific questions can include the name and pronouns they want to be used, their contact information, their majors and minors and year in college, where they grew up, whether they’ve taken the necessary prerequisites or other related courses.
Open-ended questions might ask about students’ motivation for taking the course, concerns they have about the courses, something about themselves as a person they’d be willing to share (like what they like to do outside of class), or anything else they think it would be useful for like the instructor to know. Some research suggests that asking students to reflect upon the positive traits that might help them in the class (like skills, attitudes, or experiences, or values) might affirm self-worth and improve learning.
These open-ended questions can open the way to pleasant pre-class conversations about personal interests as well as confidential conversations about the illness of a parent, working two jobs, considering dropping out, or disabilities. They might also activate students’ prior knowledge and help you know what
Having access to student photos in OnTrack can help, and so can UVA’s Center for Teaching Excellence’s suggestions for ways to learn and practice names.
We don’t have to be student’s counselors or confidants; there are professionals available at Elon who are available for counseling. Knowing them can mean asking about things like how their other classes are going, how things are going with an extracurricular organization or activity they’re involved in, whether they’re feeling better after a cold, how registration is going, etc.
It’s important, of course, that we never publicly share confidential information or never cross professional boundaries.
There are resources available if you are concerned about a student’s well-being or if a student is in crisis or needs assistance or has experienced an incident of bias or hate. In an emergency, call campus security at 336/278-5555 to figure out where you might direct the student. Academic Advising (or e-warning) can be a good starting place for academic concerns.
Don’t forget to facilitate the students getting to know one another!