As a professor of record, assistant, associate, or full professor, we can face the same dilemma every semester. How do you engage students so they are interested in your subject. You could be a professor who doesn’t care if students are interested and engaged. But then why be a professor if that’s the case? Well it could be that you are employed at an R1 university and research is your primary reason and teaching is a thing you do to get a paycheck. I won’t rant about that this time but will instead pretend all professors care about the student and write about how to get the kids to keep their eyes and ears open for that grueling hour long class.
EMOTIONS………………………..!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Those strange things that get people mad, sad, happy, giddy, and all sorts of feels get folks moving. Main emotions I want to discuss are the knowledge emotions discussed by Paul Silvia of UNC Greensboro. The four specific emotions are surprise, interest, confusion, and awe. One can understand using interest and awe but how about surprise and confusion? Well, surprise and confusion lead to attention and desire to learn. That is the goal of teaching any course at any level, isn’t it? If every student were fully interested and in awe of learning, teaching would be easy. So easy, anyone could do it. But alas, we know that not every student is fully vested in the class subject and only there because the course is ‘required’ to graduate.
When does the process of stirring up these emotions begin? How about on day one! Syllabus day. The waste of 45 minutes covering what any student should be able to read for comprehension but for legalities sake, we will be the reader for them so they don’t miss a detail. The syllabus is that tree killing thing handed out on day one and then forgotten for the rest of the semester. Know why I won’t respond to your email……..BECAUSE IT’S ON THE SYLLABUS!!! Well maybe we could provide a reading that the students want to revisit throughout the semester. Make the syllabus exciting with great descriptions of the course. What will they learn, list all the cool ways they will be shown new information. Don’t threaten with grade scales and attendance policies but create surprise and interest. “This class will cover the fundamentals of foreign policy and diplomacy.” Well isn’t that just great, I figured that from the class title, you know the one called Foreign Policy and Diplomacy. Instead, get them emotionally invested through interest, surprise, confusion and awe. “This class will engage your mind as we travel through the tangled and twisted mazes that states use to create a foreign policy and the forms of diplomacy employed to get others to believe them.” Hmmmm…tangled and twisted mazes? Is this professor the guy from Saw? Getting others to believe them. What does that mean?
Let’s break the routine of a cookie cutter syllabus and get students excited from day one and keep them excited until they graduate. Then let the world deal with them. lol.