What does a professor look for when surveying the sea of faces in a jam-packed classroom? What do they think when they see students using personal electronics, especially if they are obviously texting/Facebooking or sleeping, or otherwise not paying attention?
Roger Lohmann, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at Trent University with campuses in Peterborough and Oshawa, Ont., shares his point of view.
Q: WHAT, TO YOUR MIND, IS UNIVERSITY ABOUT?
Universities are institutions for the production, care and dissemination of scientific and humanistic knowledge. They are exciting places where people are brimming with new ideas, treasuring received wisdom from the past, and are excited to share both of these in lively discussions. Universities protect and champion academic freedom, ensuring that truth is not suppressed or distorted by popular notions or vested interests of the day. Universities safeguard standards of academic integrity, to prevent falsehood masquerading as truth. Universities are places for sharing wonder and, when guided by vision, places of inspiring beauty as well. When I first became a university student, I loved all this so much that I never wanted to leave, and it's why I'm still here decades later as a professor.
Q: WHAT DO YOU SEE AS A PROFESSOR'S JOB?
Some university students might think of their professors as primarily teachers; however, teaching is only one of a university professor's duties. A professor's main job is, normally, to produce new research results and share these in the form of publications such as journal articles and books. Teaching is ordinarily the secondary duty of a professor. Professors design and conduct their courses, provide students with a syllabus or course outline that serves as a contract of expectations and responsibilities for instructors as well as students. When teaching, a professor's job includes writing and delivering
lectures or preparing for and leading class discussions, holding office hours to meet with students, marking or overseeing the marking of assignments, and recording the grades earned by students. Third, professors aid in the administrative duties for their university such as chairing departments and programs or working with committees, and appearing at events, as well as helping to run professional and community associations.
Q: WHAT, IDEALLY, ARE YOU HOPING TO SEE WHEN STANDING AT THE LECTERN, LOOKING AT STUDENTS?
I look for signs of engagement in my students, like looking at me, reactions to what I say like occasional smiles, nods, quizzical glances, or expressions of surprise and interest. When students raise their hands with questions spoken for all to hear and respond to, everyone is more energized and plugged in. Feedback enhances my own enthusiasm and makes my lectures better. I don't think anyone falls asleep in a lecture on purpose or without embarrassment. However, students who chat with their neighbours or indulge their cravings for electronic devices during lectures put their own bad manners and foolishness on display. Some students seem to forget that their professors can see them, and that their classmates can hear them and are irritated by the distraction and disrespect.
Q: HOW DO YOU SUGGEST STUDENTS COMMUNICATE WITH THEIR PROFESSOR?
Interact with your profs. Come to their office hours to ask questions or share reactions about the class material or the subject. It's an opportunity to find out more about their research and their career, and get advice on your own. Students sometimes make the mistake of being either overly familiar, going straight to first names and sending fragmentary messages, or, more commonly, not being familiar enough, never saying a word. Use e-mail sparingly, and only for simple questions, but each message you send to your professors should be formal, including a subject, salutation and a signature. Unless you have been invited to use a professor's first name, students should always address their instructors as Professor X or Dr. X. But do greet them in the hallway, respond to and raise questions with them, and share the excitement of learning new things with them.
Q: HOW ELSE COULD STUDENTS GET THE MOST OUT OF THEIR CLASSES?
The more you put into classes, the more you will get out of them. The key is to engage. Listen attentively and questioningly to lectures, and relate what you are learning to issues in your life so they become more meaningful for you. Finish all readings before they are due, and read actively, letting the materials sink in and bounce off your previous understandings. Observe, question and share your own reactions to class materials with others inside and outside the classroom. Take detailed notes on lectures and films. Participate thoughtfully in discussions, addressing yourself to your classmates as well as your professor. You will find things you are learning about in your classes coming to mind and providing new and intriguing perspectives on your daily experiences.
Q: CHEATING AT THE POSTSECONDARY LEVEL IS ON THE RISE. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE MATTER?
Cheating is a kind of corruption that is damaging to all involved. Any society that tolerates cheating on assignments and exams, like copying and pasting others' work as though it were one's own, not only promotes lying, it produces people who are not really capable of doing what they are certified to do. You wouldn't want a doctor who got his or her degree by cheating to operate on you, or an accountant who got her job by cheating to handle your books. For these reasons, academic honesty is a prime directive in both the sciences and the arts for everyone's protection. Cheating during exams, getting outside assistance on assignments, and plagiarizing are usually quite obvious to markers and lead to unpleasant meetings with professors and deans, and penalties from failing marks to notations on one's transcript to expulsion. Even from a self-interested perspective, it is always better to hand in bad work honestly done than someone else's work no matter how well done.
Q: COULD YOU SHARE YOUR ASSIGNMENT TIPS?
On assignments, the most important thing is to follow the instructions carefully and exactly, asking questions in advance to clarify any instructions you might not be sure about. Providing extraneous material in your answers, or not providing what your professor called for, undermines your potential mark. Time management is key. Just like in the work world, deadlines are not negotiable. I advise students to set themselves an artificial deadline a few days before an assignment is due. This way, unexpected events don't get in the way of finishing. Never hand in a first draft, but read your own work with a constructively critical eye and revise at least twice, improving it each time.
On exams, I always remind students to answer the question, the whole question, and nothing but the question. To formulate your answer, carefully consider the evidence available to you in the question itself, exactly as it is worded, combined with what you have learned in the course. Double-check your own logic. To prepare for exams, review your course notes, and skim the introductions, headings, key concepts and conclusions of all your assigned readings, which you will have been sure to have already read thoroughly when they were due. Review and discuss your notes from each lecture, reading, film and class discussion with a small group of your classmates as part of your preparations for the exam. Sleep consolidates memories, so be sure to finish all your studying and get a full night's rest the day before the exam.
This interview has been edited and condensed