Bringing Students and Faculty Closer in Large Public Universities

I wish to close (or lessen) the gap between faculty and students in large public universities. Private schools are well-known for their small student:faculty ratio, which is conducive to building strong relationships between the two parties. For example, I have friends at private institutions who have had dinner parties, attended plays, and explored museums with faculty. These situations arise when faculty and students connect, which is often the case when there aren’t many students in each class. These extracurricular experiences don’t typically happen in large public universities simply because the professor can’t build a one-on-one relationship with all of the students in each class. In public schools, students often feel distanced from their professor, especially in lower-level classes where enrollment may be in the hundreds. As a (hopeful) future professor, I’ve thought of some strategies to bring students and faculty together. These can be adapted in a small private institution or a large school like VT:

  1. Encourage students that professors are here to teach and are genuinely interested in them. Some students might think that professors are only hired to conduct research, so directly addressing that misconception by stating your role as an educator might make students more receptive to you.
  2. Offer a small incentive for having students introduce themselves. I have 2 ideas for this: come to office hours and briefly chat about anything (the class, VT, life, the universe, etc.), or submit a 1-slide Powerpoint about yourself (hobbies, etc.). One of my former classes offered something similar to this; we had to submit a 5-sentence biography and a picture of ourselves. The assignment was only worth 2% of the total grade, so it was inconsequential if it wasn’t submitted, but it was an easy (and fun) way to earn quick points.
  3. Attend out-of-class activities and encourage students to attend as well. For instance, a professor teaching a music class could suggest students see an upcoming concert. If the activity is related to class material and you state that you will attend, students might be highly motivated to go. Like the last point, you could offer some (extra) credit if they catch you at the event. This could also help town-gown relations, such as an art exhibit featuring pieces crafted by local artists.
  4. Arrive to class early and stay late. Approach students in the front row and ask them how their day is. Because students will be transitioning in and out of the classroom, conversations will probably be very brief, but conversing for a few seconds every class quickly builds rapport.
  5. Prove your humanity to the students. When I previously taught a small class, I would always open class with a comic strip. The strip would never be relevant to the lesson, but I found that showing the students that I had some form of a personality prompted students to reciprocate. After I read the comic strip, I would dedicate 5 minutes to talking about their lives. Although I lost about 10 minutes each class to these activities, I was able to get to know each student personally. By the end of the semester, the students and I were able to open up to each other freely. I will admit that the class only had 11 students, but I firmly believe the principles can be adapted to a class of any size.

Most of these 5 ideas are mainly focused around building strong rapport with students, but I’ve listed these because I believe that this is the first step to opening the doors to creative, out-of-class experiences. These experiences don’t typically happen in public schools, but I hope to see that in the future. I hope to bridge the gap between faculty and students, because learning is a two-way street.

4 thoughts on “Bringing Students and Faculty Closer in Large Public Universities”

  1. These are wonderful suggestions! I try to employ very similar strategies in my course (which is also very small). I have always wondered how scalable it is, though. When classes reach sizes of over 100 seats in a class, it seems like these strategies become increasingly more daunting. Any suggestions for scalability?

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  2. I like a lot of your ideas. It was really nice in this class that Dean DePauw took the time to meet with each of us one on one in this class and I think that helps to develop a better relationship between the student and the faculty. I think a big barrier, especially in those big lectures with 300+ students (like chemistry, maths, English etc.) is that the students legitimately think the professor does not care and I think a big part of reversing this problem is convincing the student that the professor does care. It is almost a two way street that needs to be addressed from both ends.

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  3. Thanks for the post! This is a gap that I think a lot of new and young educators want to bring closer or even close. As a first generation and low income undergrad, my relationship with my instructors were basically non-existent; even in my smaller classes. I worked full time, went to school full time, and missed a lot of classes and opportunists along the way in order to pay my bills and eat some food. I tell this story, because one of the most important parts of connecting students and teachers, I believe, is creating a sense of welcome, support, and transparency. I never felt represented or saw myself reflected in my teachers, so it was hard to connect with them. Inclusion is a large factor missing from the student/teacher relationship. As a student, feeling represented can really help them open up to their teacher. Thanks again for your post!

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  4. I completely agree! But I think it has to be a larger effort, e.g. department-wide. And both students and professors need to change their perspectives. I think many professors would not want something like what you describe; they want to simply deliver the material and be done with the teaching.

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