One should be able to do what one knows
Milt Hakel (Bowling Green State University)
The preceding statement is elegant in its simplicity and brevity, and so profound as to be able to drive all aspects of higher education.
In the 21st century, it is no longer appropriate for university classes to focus on knowledge acquisition on the part of students. New knowledge is being created every instant, and it is impossible for any one person to keep up with everything even in a very narrow field. Also, students today are adept at finding the knowledge they need when they need it. Professors emphasizing knowledge is passe, and I am embarrassed to be a colleague to so many professors who stubbornly adhere to the old ways. Also, it is just plain wrong for professors to assume that students will be able to figure out what to do with their knowledge once they graduate from college. If they don’t learn how to use it here, they won’t be able to take that skill with them.
In the 21st century, the focus should be on what a student can do with discipline specific knowledge. An old proverb goes something like, if you feed a person a fish, then the person eats only then. But if you teach a person how to catch fish, then the person will eat well into the future.
Decades of research by psychologists have revealed many truths about how people learn best. They don’t learn by being talked to, but by being shown and by trying it for themselves. This is what I’m all about. My philosophy is that college courses should not be about teachers, they should only be about student learning. I have adopted the learning-centered classroom approach, where students learn by doing. My role as a teacher is to get students to a point where they can realistically do something with what they know. Once they learn to ride the bicycle of accounting, they won’t need my training wheels any more and they can travel anywhere they want. Along the way, students must get intimate with the material, to tear it apart and put it back together again so that in the future they (without my assistance) can think and act on their own.
My philosophy is to reach out to students. Did you know that students will have a better experience in class if the professor always wears a smile when entering the room? Reaching out to students is so important. Someone needs to make first contact, and it’ll never be the student. That’s why a professor must smile and be cordial. Who wants to be touched by a sour puss? An old adage goes something like this, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force him to drink.” Well, I walk along the path with the students, let them get there at their own pace, and help get them excited to drink when they arrive at their destination.
What is the most important aspect of teaching?
The most important aspect of effective teaching, in my opinion, is to to motivate students, to try to make it easy for a student to develop an affinity for the subject. What makes it so interesting is that the students are so different! Some can be hooked by a vision of the future. Others by the potential for service to society. Then some are motivated by the prospect of a challenging career, or perhaps a rewarding career. Some get motivated because they learn that they are invited to become an integral part of the group learning environment. Others get motivated by doing. Others learn because of their friends, or because they appreciate the professor. A professor must use whatever it takes to make it possible for students to develop an
affinity for the subject.
I have found that today’s students are eager to learn. This runs contrary to what so many professors believe. If I don’t select something vitally important for them, then I am wasting their precious time. As a result, I bear a heavy responsibility to choose carefully those things that are the most important for students to learn. The most frequent comments I hear from students is that I truly care that they learn in my classes, and that I believe what they should learn from my classes will have a priceless impact on their professional lives. Once I have communicated this, then invariably classes go very well because students are naturally enthusiastic to learn what will make them a better person.
Although it is a second aspect, I think that a professor must so respect the student’s right to learn that nothing done by the professor will cheapen any student’s experience. A third aspect is that a professor must be willing to interact with each and every student that needs coaching. I bring something to every class for students to work on. I am able to walk around the classroom, peering over each student’s shoulder, and providing a gentle nudge if asked for it.
What satisfaction is there to being a professor?
Being a professor is my whole life! My self-identity is defined by being a professor. My joy of life comes from being a professor. I can’t imagine life any other way. I am especially enthused about being a teacher. My greatest thrill comes from when a student says, “Now I see how this works.” From this point on they need me no more.
Imagine what it is like. Students line up to take my classes. They pay money to listen to me speak and to watch me, to learn to think like I think and do how I do! Being a professor is a heavy responsibility, because of the impact one has on the mind and life of so many young citizens of society. I continually strive to do the best job possible because my students deserve the very best. I have talked with a few other professors who have adopted the learner-centered approach. They agree that they are now concerned with each and everything that is said and done in class, and the impact it all has on how a student is learning.
I am grateful that my students can leave college and enter the business world able to stand on their own two feet. They understand business, they can speak and read the language of business.