Should professors be human, too?

Professors are baring their souls and tastes on line, Stephanie Rosenblum of The New York Times reports with some incredulity. She rightly questions whether sharing your taste in music and your cat snaps with students really makes you a better teacher.

“Sam Gosling, a psychologist and an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who has about 300 students on his MySpace page, said there are students today who think professors are not doing their jobs unless they convey information in zany, interactive ways.”

Hmm. A good educator conveys information, certainly (rather than simply spouting it). If interactive teaching techniques help implant information in the mind of a student, by all means use them. But I’d argue that you should ensure that the information you’re conveying is of some use to the students. More use than what your cats had for breakfast or what you like to listen to on your i-pod when you’re out kayaking.

Many professors are apparently spending their time making friends on Facebook in the hopes of making themselves more likeable. More likeable may mean higher ratings on the (sometimes quite vicious) student rating system RateMyProfessors.com. And who knows, in this list-obsessed world of ours, higher ratings may turn into a higher salary, or a better job. I note with interest that the schools with the highest rated professors are not the Ivy League by any means. Number one is the Mormon Brigham Young University in Utah. Hot on its heels is Southeastern Louisiana University. Perhaps the faculty at these lesser known schools have to try harder. Or perhaps the students at Ivy League schools are too busy learning useful things to spend time rating their professors on line. Many professors obviously take student’s acerbic comments rather seriously, seriously enough to respond on video. But I wonder how important “likeability” is in a teacher. A good teacher has a passion for their subject and a drive to communicate that passion. You can be really quite unlikeable and still do that very well.

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This post was published on 21/03/08 in Uncategorized.

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  1. Comment by Lazygal, 21/03/08, 02:58:

    E, I’ve been pondering the same things myself. There are two other blogposts I’ve read regarding teaching and student interest, and this article came it just the right time. It also falls into that whole “Too Much Information” area (I worked with a woman who thought it appropriate to mention that she’d been artificially inseminated; naturally, the students were a bit grossed out). There’s a fine line between entertaining and teaching, and between interacting and being inappropriate.

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