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Dec 09, 2014

Building Professor-Student Relationships in an Age of Social Networking

The influence of teacher-student relationships on the quality of teaching and learning is well-documented (Klem & Connell, 2004; National Survey of Student Engagement [NSSE], 2012; Rigsbee, 2010). Especially at the college level, rapport between professors and students is likely to increase student learning because students feel valued, more comfortable expressing their feelings, and more willing to be intellectually challenged (Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence, 2012).

But college students are changing. Research shows that Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1999, prefer a variety of active learning activities, seek relevance so they can apply what they are learning, want to know the rationale behind course requirements, and desire a “laid back” learning environment in which they can informally interact with the professor and each other (Bart, 2011). Most significantly, “Millennials…are more willing to pursue learning outcomes when instructors connect with them on a personal level” (para. 5).

Use of technology, especially social networking, has been shown to influence professor-student relationships. Today’s college students use social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.) most often to connect with friends and family (89%) and to a lesser degree for educational purposes such as planning study sessions (28%), completing assignments and projects (33%), and communicating with faculty or advisors (15%) (NSSE, 2012). It appears that many of today’s professors are responding in kind: “More than half of the students who interacted with faculty or advisors through social media had two-way communications with them” (p. 18).

While some believe that virtual interactions between students and their professors nurtures the professor-student relationship, one recent study reports that 40% of college students and 30% of faculty believe it is inappropriate for professors to interact with students on social networking sites (Malesky & Peters, 2012). Wilkinson and Milbourne (in press) explain that college students’ prolific social networking habits lead to perceived intimacy in which they experience false feelings of closeness with others and expect everyone – including their professors – to be accessible and responsive 24/7. Such misguided feelings and expectations can eradicate professional boundaries and “demote” professors from their status as authority figures to the perceived status of peer or even service worker (Gangnon & Milbourne, 2014).

So how can college professors establish an effective balance between authority and a relationship with their students? Stewart (2009) suggests that professors first maintain academic standards “even if it means [students] must sometimes move outside their comfort zones and we must move outside ours” (p. 117). Following are a few suggestions for establishing authority and professional boundaries while still maintaining professor-student relationships characterized by warmth and friendliness:

  1. Model professionalism in your face-to-face interactions with students. If your students perceive you as an authority figure, they will treat you with respect. Dress professionally, expect your students to address you formally (e.g., Dr. Smith, Mrs. Jones), and use professional language. With that said, you don’t have to be stuffy. A sense of humor and “being yourself” can go a long way with college students!
  2. Be prepared and well-organized. Your students will feel reassured knowing they can trust you to lead them through the semester without vague information or last minute changes. To prevent misunderstandings, alleviate student stress, and avoid conflict, post everything students will need to be successful in your course (e.g., course policies, weekly schedule, PowerPoints, handouts, assignment directions, etc.) in a timely manner, if not by the first day of class.
  3. Provide a rationale and maintain some degree of flexibility. We all appreciate understanding why things are the way they are. Clearly explain the reasoning behind your course policies, objectives guiding class assignments and activities, etc. On those occasions when students question, resist, or respond unenthusiastically, either review your rationale or consider making revisions. Even minor revisions based on student responses are likely to build professor-student rapport.
  4. Establish clear expectations for outside of class communication. As the old saying goes, prevention is the best medicine. Let your students know how you prefer to be contacted (e.g., phone, e-mail, etc.), specify when you will hold office hours and respond to e-mail, and clearly state “off limits” modes of contact (e.g., no texting). If a student contacts you via text message when you’ve asked your class not to, maintain your boundary by not responding.
  5. Model professionalism through your virtual interactions with students. Your written word is an extension of your actual self. In addition to using professional written language, share information appropriately (i.e., nothing too personal) and never use virtual communication to chastise or discipline. Begin each message with a greeting and end with a closing to maintain some level of formality. Always check for grammar and spelling and always proofread your entire message for tone before hitting the send button!
  6. Get to know your students, but maintain professional distance. Once you know your students’ names – and pronounce their names correctly – you can begin getting to know them as people. But don’t get to know them too personally. Converse with them about their families, their jobs, their thinking and experiences related to your course/discipline, and their future plans, but leave the rest of their lives to them. There is no need to know about their love relationships, drinking habits, or personal problems. They do not need to know these details about your life either. Avoid friending your students on Facebook until they’ve graduated, and never, ever read Rate My!

* Bart, M. (2011, November 16). The five r’s of engaging millennial students. Faculty Focus: Higher Ed Strategies from Magna Publications. Retrieved from
* Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence (2012). Connecting with your students. Retrieved from
* Gangnon, B., & Milbourne, C. (2014). Dear barista: Professors as members of the service class. Paper presented at the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, Urbana-Champaign, IL.
* Klem, A. M., & Connell, J. P. (2004). Relationships matter: Linking teacher support to student engagement and achievement. Journal of School Health, 74(7), 262–273.
* Malesky, L. A., & Peters, C. (2012). Defining appropriate professional behavior for faculty and university students on social networking websites. Higher Education, 63, 135–151.
* National Survey of Student Engagement. (2012). Promoting Student Learning and Institutional Improvement: Lessons from NSSE at 13. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research. Retrieved from
* Rigsbee, C. (2010, June). The relationship balance. Educational Leadership, 67. Retrieved from
* Stewart, K. (2009). Lessons from teaching millennials. College Teaching, 57(2), 111–117.
* Wilkinson, J. S., & Milbourne, C. C. (in press). Effects of social networking: Accessibility, immediacy, perceived intimacy. Manuscript submitted for publication.

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University and organized by Seneca College and New York Institute of Technology.

Jana Hunzicker, Ed.D.
Executive Director, Center for Teaching Excellence and Learning
Bradley University, Peoria, IL

Author: francine_glazer

Dec 03, 2014

Identifying Pearls of Wisdom from End-of-Semester Course Evaluations

At the end of the semester it can be valuable to take a few moments and reflect on what went well in your courses, and what you might want to change the next time you teach them. One source of information is the student evaluations of teaching, available to you after you submit your final grades.

Yes, response rate could be lower than you’d like, and anonymous comments might be dreadful. However, many students do put in some careful thoughts when filling out the course evaluations – which they do while staying up late studying for exams. Here are some steps you can take to find the pearls of wisdom:

  1. Spend a few minutes and think about:
    1. What went well, for both the students and you, as intended? How?
    2. What could have gone better, for both the students and you? How?
    3. What would you like to change next time around? Why?
  2. Dreadful feedback: read, ponder and put aside.
  3. Pearls of Wisdom:
    1. Look for strengths and areas of improvements
    2. Categorize them
    3. Match them against the list you developed in Step #1
  4. Develop an action plan:
    1. List the strengths you are going to maintain
    2. List one or two things you will adjust/change/modify
  5. Work with a couple of colleagues, or consult with staff at the Center for Teaching and Learning: fresh eyes bring new perspectives.

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University and organized by Seneca College and New York Institute of Technology.


Judy C. K. Chan, Ph. D.
Educational Developer | Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology
Faculty/CTLT Liaison | Faculty of Land and Food Systems
The University of British Columbia | Vancouver

Author: francine_glazer

Nov 19, 2014

Extend Conversations Beyond Class

Sometimes when students are working on group assignments such as presentations, debates, or case studies, you may notice that not everyone is participating. Some students are very enthusiastic, while others sit back in their chairs and let their peers do the work. How can you ensure that the work is evenly distributed and that all your students are engaged?

Perhaps your students are engaged in a discussion that is going spectacularly well, and is cut short because the class session ends. Wouldn’t it be great to have a way to extend that conversation outside of class?

VoiceThread might provide a solution to these problems. In VoiceThread every student has a voice, and each student can choose from a range of tools to communicate. Students can login to the course on Blackboard and participate in the discussion, at a time that fits their busy school and work schedules.

What is VoiceThread?

VoiceThread is an asynchronous web-based interactive tool for collaboration and sharing. A VoiceThread can contain images, videos, and documents, with or without narration. Viewers can add comments using voice, text, audio file, or video.

What does it look like? See these two examples by Michelle Pacansky-Brock.

Educational technologies vary in their functionally and features. When you choose an educational technology to use in your class, consider the needs of the 21st-century students, their interests and learning styles. Millenials want to be active participants and content creators rather than passive content recipients.

VoiceThread has three distinctive criteria: it allows students to be active and engaged, collaborate and co-create, and express themselves by various means of communication.

Engagement: VoiceThread allows students to engage with the content of the course, an instructor and peers by actively contributing to the discussion on and about an artifact, a mini-lecture or a presentation. Students can also create a VoiceThread and become creators and critics of other VoiceThreads.

Collaboration: Students can collaborate with their peers and work in groups creating a VoiceThread (e.g. a presentation or a demonstration). Students can create and edit a VoiceThread in a group and share it with the rest of the class, who can also contribute and comment of their work.

Functionality: VoiceThread is one-of-a-kind technology that supports a discussion that is not primarily text-based. If you are already using a Discussion Board in Blackboard, then you are familiar with text-based discussions. VoiceThread lets you take the conversation outside of the text-based environment and allows your students to be creative. Your students can use over 50 different types of media in a VoiceThread as the basis for a conversation.

Last year, the Educational Technology Committee of the Academic Senate developed a guide for selecting and evaluating emerging technologies. We used this guide to evaluate VoiceThread – refer to it if you would like a more comprehensive overview of the tool.


Olena Zhadko, PhD
Manager, Course Development
Center for Teaching and Learning
New York Institute of Technology

Author: francine_glazer

Nov 12, 2014

Small Changes Can Improve Class Community and Student Course Evaluations

A well-organized, carefully planned course is critical for effective teaching, but attention to small details contributes to rapport with students and a classroom experience that supports effective learning. Corbett and LaFrance (2013) offer suggestions that improve the learning for students and the teaching experience for instructors.

  • Arrive early and linger after the class meeting time – make adjustments to lighting, set up your technology for the session, chat with students before and after class to learn about events outside of class that might influence their in-class learning and continue topic-related conversations while you walk back to your office.
  • Create a positive attitude during class meetings – leave your own life stresses at the door when you teach. We can’t always be our best selves every day. Life stresses and department politics can intrude on our thoughts. But try to protect class time from these worries. Similarly, do not allow sullenness in students to ruin your enthusiasm. Your enthusiasm and attitude can be contagious, although the effect will not be immediate.
  • Respond promptly to student email messages – you need not respond immediately. Tell your students when they can expect a response (on the first day of class, in your syllabus) and honor this promise.
  • Surrender control of the class occasionally – choose your battles for control. Some activities and rules for class management are not negotiable. But if you can allow students to determine how some things work, you create a sense of community and shared responsibility for classroom learning. Identify class policies that you feel comfortable allowing students to determine what is acceptable. Explain why other activities or course policies cannot be altered.
  • Remember to tell students when they are doing well – students need feedback to correct errors but they also need feedback to let them know when they are on track. Remember to recognize progress and successes.

When we adopt one or more of these small changes, teaching becomes a more pleasant and rewarding activity and our students become more engaged and motivated with the class.


Corbett, S. J., & LaFrance, M. (September 9, 2013). It’s the little things that count in teaching. Chronicle of Higher Education. [Retrieved 9–10–2013:]

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University and organized by Seneca College and New York Institute of Technology.

Claudia J. Stanny, Ph.D., Director
Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment
University of West Florida
Pensacola, FL
(850) 857–6355 or 473–7435

Author: francine_glazer

Nov 05, 2014

Maximizing the Performance of Informal Groups in Class

We faculty tend to love using informal (ad hoc) groups. Students derive most of the learning benefits of group work, and we find them relatively easy to administer – easy compared to long-term formal groups that collaborate on one or more substantial assignments outside of class.

These groups are ideal for clicker-question exchanges and lecture-break activities, and we can set them up of any size on the fly (“Work with the two fellow students sitting next to you.”). They are too short-term to provoke student concerns about someone freeloading, sand-bagging, dominating, controlling, ego-tripping, bullying, whining, or engaging in some other “collaboro-pathic” behavior, so we don’t have to mediate conflicts. In addition, students don’t have to peer-evaluate, and we don’t have to read these evaluations or incorporate them into the final grades.

However, just because we don’t have students coming to our office with complaints does not mean these informal groups are functioning well. Circulate among them and listen closely. Some groups wander off task or never get on task. Others lean on one or two of its members to generate ideas, solve the problems, explain correct answers, and so on. After all, students tend to sit in the same place every class period even if they don’t have to, and some of them either create problems for others or suffer from these problems.

Here are some strategies to prevent these problems.

Groups Not on Task

Of course, you should circulate around the classroom to let students know you’re monitoring their progress. But you can also do the following:

  • Make sure every task that you assign to groups is challenging – specifically, that it requires thinking that goes beyond what the students have read or heard you say. The task may assess students’ conceptual understanding, ability to apply the material, analytic skills, or evaluative judgment. In any case, it should require synergy for students to perform.
  • Give students a tight time limit in advance, and enforce it. Students will see that they have to focus to get the task done.
  • If suitable for the task, require that groups submit a written or drawn product that all group members must sign. (You can use these submissions to take attendance or to a give students a point or two for completion.)
  • If the task doesn’t call for a product, just cold-call on a few groups “randomly” to report out and explain their answers.

Uneven Member Effort

  • Routinely cold-call on individual members within the groups “randomly” to report out. Millis (2014) describes how to designate individual members using playing cards.
  • Change the composition of informal groups two or more times during the term. You can ask students to rearrange themselves with new neighbors, or you can rearrange them yourself using a seating chart (good for taking attendance quickly and learning student names).


Linda B. Nilson, Ph.D.
Director, Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation
Clemson University

Author: francine_glazer

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