After a year of successful programming (fall 2014-summer 2015), our team wanted to kick-off the new academic year right with a student-faculty lunch at New Faculty Orientation. What better way for faculty to get oriented to their new institution than by hearing from its students?
By facilitating a structured conversation between three to four faculty and two students, we strove to help faculty see students as valuable resources for improving teaching and to help students recognize their ability to enhance learning environments. We wanted to make visible to both faculty and students the various types of expertise that can be brought to bear on educational processes.
After grabbing lunch, students introduced themselves and shared with faculty their favorite facet of UVa culture and one thing these teachers should be excited about as new members of our community. Students and faculty then discussed 1) a time when they felt motivated and inspired in their education or 2) an interaction with a faculty member that made a difference. Each table was asked to compare these shared experiences and reflect on the qualities that made these powerful learning experiences possible.
We then asked them to ponder the following question: How might faculty and students work together to make such learning environments likely to occur? They came up with ideas as a table and then shared with the entire room.
Students commented on the need for “faculty [to match] the enthusiasm of students,” for faculty to “engage students and meet with them where they are.” Other students commented on the need for “increased faculty and student interactions beyond lecture” and an “interactive classroom,” where students are “being actively engaged,” because “it is these interactions that so often lead to a life-long passion.” They wanted faculty to move beyond just covering material in the classroom and show a genuine interest in the student and therefore, a genuine interest in their learning.
Both faculty and students discussed the importance of seeing each other as whole human beings, to “look at each other as people.” One student challenged other students to be aware that “professors are people too…they have families…they care about us…” Likewise, a faculty member urged others to “understand what students are feeling.”
Several faculty acknowledged the importance of getting student feedback to better organize and facilitate a course. Some even talked about their experiences co-designing courses.
One of the biggest take-aways, though, was the need to talk openly and in the classroom about real-life events that significantly impact both students and faculty. Just as one student asked teachers to address campus events that happen outside the class, one teacher expressed concern that many students “don’t have any other outlet” for talking about traumatic events.