Give Your College Students What They Want and Need

This is an extremely broad and encompassing topic.  It’s far too large to answer concisely.  However, here is my question.  If you could give one piece of advice to a new college instructor related to this topic, what would it be?  Do you want to hear my response?

An Instructor’s Guide for the First Day of Class

June 6, 2010, I wrote an article by this title.  Recently, I addressed a group of my adjunct instructors.  I touched on some of the points in my article.  I also talked about some of what I wrote in my recent article How to Prepare to Teach a College Course.  However, I forgot to mention one simple bit of advice of college faculty, which I will mention in a minute.

College faculty members are evaluated in several ways.  As a dean, I evaluate them based on student feedback.  I also evaluate them based on student success.  I want to see a high percentage of students passing the course coupled with a low percentage of drops.  Of course, I do my best to determine that my instructors are upholding the integrity of the college and not just easy graders.  There are other intangibles I use, but I will save all that for another article.

What occurred to me is that there is an often overlooked and undervalued resource for college instructors to use to help them give their students what they want and need.  And every instructor should make good use of it.  It is the course evaluation form that their students will complete near the end of the term.

Student Evaluations

My March 14, 2010, article by this title, was subtitled Make Sure Your Evaluations Aren’t “Evil-uations” The piece of advice that I plan to email to my adjuncts is to review their past evaluations, look for opportunities to improve and make self-improvement plans.

For first time instructors, my message is to keep a copy of the evaluation form handy.  Review it regularly, and assess yourself against the criteria your students will be using.

What do College Students Want?

Here is another tactic you can try.  Ask your students what they want and expect from you.  There are a number of ways to go about this, but I would advise soliciting anonymous feedback.  Ask them open ended questions like “What is the most important thing you want me to do to help you succeed?”  Give them some examples of the things they might want to consider, or you may get a lot of worthless responses like “teach me something” or “go easy on the grades.”

Word of Caution: When you ask your students for advice, you are giving them a voice.  There is an expectation that you will not only listen to them but act according to their requests.  For this reason, it is important that you give them some feedback.  Summarize the feedback you receive and share it with your class.  It might go something like this.  “To those of you who requested I dismiss class early every evening, my response is no.  But I will do my best to keep the class interesting so you won’t have any problems staying awake.  A few of you who expressed concern about the two major papers required in this course.  This is a college course, and I intend to uphold high standards.  I expect a lot from you, and I do want you to succeed.  For that reason, I will be guiding you through these two projects.  You will have opportunities to submit drafts for me to review which will not count toward you grades.  Furthermore, you will have one opportunity to resubmit your graded papers if you are not satisfied with the initial grade you earned.”

It’s all about getting to know college students – your college students. Here’s hoping you give your students what they want and need!

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

January 15, 2011


About Dr. Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

My name is Paul Hummel, and I often introduce myself to others as a recovering engineer. If you are familiar with the Dilbert cartoons, let me simply say that I lived all of that. I started my college saga at Illinois Institute of Technology. Eventually, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management. I worked for many years in industry, and during this time I did some college adjunct teaching. During my career I held several managerial positions in industry, the last as Director of Technology of a division of a Fortune 500 corporation. Then, in 1996, with minimal planning or forethought, I found myself working as a manufacturing consultant on behalf of Elgin Community College (ECC). My career in higher education began to take shape. I fell in love with ECC and with the mission of community colleges in general. I worked fulltime and occasionally taught college courses for my institution and two other colleges. After a couple years I set a goal to move over to the “credit side of the college” and eventually become a college administrator. In 2006, having earned my doctorate in education, I achieved that goal. I was hired by Waubonsee Community College as Dean for Technology, Mathematics and Physical Sciences. I have had the great fortune of working at two excellent colleges. The insights I want to share are drawn from the various college positions I have held. At ECC, in addition to my consulting role, I coordinated non-credit professional development training programs for three years and spent four years advising students in the TRiO Student Support Services program. That position helped me understand college education from the perspective of today’s college students. After seven years at Waubonsee, I retired April 30, 2013. I now devote my knowledge and skills to upgrading and expanding the websites I created beginning with Adjunct Assistance. I have three other websites: College Teaching Tips, Keys for College Success and Lighthouse for Learning. A lot of work lies ahead for me in terms of upgrading and expanding each of these websites, but I could not be more excited about fulfilling the vision I have for helping college instructors and their students succeed.

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