The Perceived Quality of a College Instructor

Do you pass inspection?

Think about the best college instructor you ever had. What was special about him or her? How do you match up to that standard? More importantly, how do your students and your college administrators judge your quality?

There is a concept I used when I worked in the automotive industry called perceived quality. Let me give you an example. You are in the dealer show room, and an expensive luxury car has caught your eye. You open and close the door.  With minimal effort, that heavy, solid structure moves smoothly toward the center pillar. No squeaking. There is a thud, not a loud noise mind you, put the solid sound that reassures you that the car is well made. Absolutely no rattles. You eye the clearance between the door and the adjacent body parts. Perfect! A small uniform gap both front and back. You position your head close to the front fender; and turning toward the rear of the car, you squint a bit as you check the smooth, even contour of the door and the flawless gleaming finish. That is perceived quality. Of course, you know nothing about actually performance – gas mileage, ride comfort, passenger noise, handling, reliability, maintenance costs, safety, etc. etc. The quality message you get by simply closing the door tells you that this is a top quality vehicle.

Next, you walk over to a more affordable model and make your quality check.  The small squeak and a bit of a rattle as the door closes helps you form a quick conclusion. The gaps around the door would not have bothered you, were you not comparing these nearly ¼ inch spaces to the narrow slits between door and body on the first car. You show no concern for the surface finish because you have perceived the quality of this car to be poor. However, you never learn the truth about this car. You don’t know that it is the Motor Trend Car of the Year with the highest customer satisfaction rating in its class.

These two examples illustrate how perceived quality effects our opinions. And what you need to be mindful of is that your students apply the same principle when judging you. Going back to your favorite instructor, I bet you that the traits you remember best are ones of perceived quality. The way she dressed. His punctuality. The fact the she was always so organized. His caring personality. Her sense of humor.  Of course, these admirable qualities had far less impact on your learning than did his subject matter expertise, or the practical experience she brought to the classroom, or the clarity of his explanations, or the patience and respect she showed students.

What is your perceived quality? What impression do your students form of you? As I mentioned in a post a few days ago, if students don’t like you, you are in trouble. Don’t believe all the stuff about respect, because this is not the business world.

My Recommendation

Do a self assessment of your perceived quality. (You know we can all improve.) Set some goals for yourself – areas where you can do better. Make this exercise your personal quality improvement project. And be sure there is no rattling door on you, a Motor Trend Instructor of the Year. 🙂

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Revised May 2, 2010


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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