At the time of writing, I’m assisting faculty with processing the grades and academic standings of students from the last academic year. All of the grades for the Winter are in, but for the engineering degrees we are in the long, tedious process of reviewing all the grades and courses delivered over the last twelve months and making notes on ways the delivery can be improved for next year. This is an important process for us to follow, not only for our continuous improvement requirements for accreditation, but also because it’s important to pause periodically and reflect on the reasons students perform they way they do – especially when they fail.
Because people have a tendancy to shift blame away from themselves, reviewing student failures can be challenging. If you ask students why they fail, you’ll likely hear something that reflects courses that are too challenging, professors who are unreasonable, or circumstances they had no control over. Faculty, on the other hand, think students are unwilling to put in the hard work needed to be successful. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. In my opinion, I feel that faculty sometimes forget what it’s like to be a student, and I feel that students don’t see the bigger picture to help them understand how they should be prioritizing their work.
Despite the fact that students are legally adults when they come to school, we forget that the depth of their experience is often pretty shallow. It’s the first time they are away from home, the first time they are having to manage their day-to-day lives, and often higher education is a large step-up in academic expectations compared to their secondary school experience. I’ll chat a bit more about this next week, but I think the takeaway is that we often take for granted the experience we, as professors, draw upon to manage ourselves and our work, and instead we shake our heads when the students perform poorly in their work and seem to ignore the opportunities we extend them for extra support (office hours, anyone?).
A valuable skill faculty need to develop and practice is empathy for students. We as faculty have a responsibility to both apply high expectations to the students, but also be willing to place ourselves in their shoes and see the world as they do – a world where everything seems important, everything is competing for their attention, and crucially, students think everything carries dire consequences.