Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Becoming a Great Teacher: Part 1

This entry is the first part in a series of blogs on what constitutes a great teacher from the students' point of view. An introduction to the topic and the research methods used is available here.

An impressive undergraduate, Carol Cook, interviewed 45 undergraduate students in agricultural economics. First, she asked the students to describe the attributes of a great teacher, and then to describe why those attributes are important to them.

For me, the most useful data from the interviews are the attributes most frequently listed. As far as the most important attribute to the students there was no contest: dynamic lecturer.

Of the 45 interviews, 58% of the students listed dynamic lecturer as the most important attribute - more than any other attribute. Of course, they did not all use the phrase "dynamic lecturer." In all probability, none of them did. Carol and I had to look at the phrasing they used for their answers and group them into categories. Based on their descriptions of great teachers, most of their answers were grouped under the category dynamic lecturer.

Next, we reviewed the interviews to determine the four main reasons that students value having a dynamic lecturer as a teacher. During the interview, after naming a few attributes of great teachers, and ranking the attributes, the students were asked to take one or two attributes and describe why it is important to them. Specifically, we asked the consequence of a teacher who is a dynamic lecturer that is important to them.

The four most common answers are shown above. Having a teacher who gives dynamic lectures helps them (1) understand the material (2) stay focused in class (3) retain the material and (4) leads to a valuable education (meaning the students extract value from the class).

Whether or not you agree with the students, this is what the students think. If you want to be thought of as a great teacher in the students' eyes, you should strive to become a dynamic lecturer.

In subsequent blog entries, we will describe strategies for becoming this dynamic teacher that students so love!