Thursday, March 17, 2016

Dr. Faulkner: Why Won’t They Come to My Office?

For many of my years in the classroom, I lamented the fact that students in trouble in my classes refused to come during office hours for help and advice.  I did all but beg them to come and still it was “crickets.”  Finally a wise and experienced faculty member offered some insight.  My colleague reminded me that for 12 years of the students’ academic experience, there was only one reason to go to someone’s office.  They were in trouble!  Consciously or unconsciously students associated going to the office with being sent to the Principal.

Now I learn there is even more to the story.  Dr. Courtney N. Wright is an Associate Professor in the College of Communication and Information at the University of Tennessee.  (Go Big Orange!)  Her research interests are in relational communication, conflict management, and instructional communication.  In regard to the classroom she says, “I subscribe to the perspective of teaching as an interpersonal relationship.  And a positive relationship helps provide a foundation for dealing with inevitable difficult dialogues in the classroom . . .”  In a paper titled, “Examining the silence of academic disappointment”, (Journal of Scholarship of Teaching andLearning. Vol 13, No 5. Dec. 2013 pp 46 – 60)   Dr. Wright offers that, “. . . a failure to discuss disappointing grades is a failure of education in some respects.”

In this study involving 257 undergraduates Dr. Wright found students’ reasons for not discussing disappointing grades with instructors fell into categories exemplified by the following quotes:
·         I didn’t think I would gain anything from it.
·         I felt that it was mostly my own fault for not studying well enough.
·         I understood where my failing were.
·         It was the first test and I was getting to know her style of exam.
·         He (the instructor) is extremely intimidating.
·         I was not convinced that she could adequately explain it to anyone else but herself.
·         While the grade was less than I expected, it still wasn’t terrible.
·         I deserved the grade.
·         Primarily the grade wasn’t that important to me.
·         I was not comfortable enough to go up and explain my stance whether I’m right or not.
·         The lines were always very long.
·         I don’t know why I didn’t talk to the instructor.

Situations like this are why proactive advising is so important.  Students’ misunderstandings and reluctance are an opportunity to teach them skills that will benefit them throughout life.

Things we can do to help students are to:
·         Be aware of immediacy – the perceived physical or psychological distance between communicators.
·         Use positive non-verbal communication – open body position, smiling, vocal variety.
·         Be aware of verbal communication.  Incorporate self-disclosure, positive recognition, use of humor.
·         Provide objective feedback directly focused on the assessment.

As one of our core values says, “We are all educators,” and our opportunities to educate extend beyond the subjects covered in the classroom.

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