5 Things I Have Learned Teaching College Students

I have been teaching college students at Concordia University — Wisconsin for the past twelve years. Even in those twelve years college students have changed. They used to be much more engaged in the classroom. Now they’re much more passive. It means that educators have had to adjust, as well.

Teaching is simply one form of communication, and it’s techniques apply to other forms, too. Here are five things I learned teaching college students that apply to communication, no matter what it may be.

  1. College students care when their teachers care. Students can tell from the moment a lesson begins whether a teacher cares and is passionate about the subject. If they sense a caring teacher, they will be immediately engaged. If they sense a teacher who is disengaged and uncaring, they will be too. Don’t ask me how I know this… Good communicators care about their audience.
  2. In this digital generation, college students frequently need things changed up. How many minutes is it between TV commercials? That’s generally how often teaching techniques in the classroom should change. Every eleven to twelve minutes switch from lecture, to small groups, to video, to question and answer. Good communicators keep an audience on their toes.
  3. Over the past few years, college students would rather listen to a lecture than do small group work. This generation of young adults is used to having people cater to them. That’s OK for a while, but they do need to be stretched and taken out of their comfort zone if true learning is going to happen. Lecture for a while, but don’t do it exclusively (see above). Good communicators do the same.
  4. Given the opportunity, most college students want to impress. Give an assignment that’s more than just writing a term paper, and most college students will go above and beyond just the bare minimum. They want to create something excellent and unusual. I once had a student write and perform a song, ala Phoebe on Friends. It was one of the most excellent homework assignments I have ever had the pleasure of grading. Good communicators give their audiences opportunities to participate in a unique way.
  5. College students sometimes need some motivation to keep them on track. It’s the reason why there are tests and grades. Some students are motivated by them more than others, but all college students need motivation, whether it is a “carrot” or a “stick.” Good communicators motivate their audience to move forward in some way.

Based on your own learning style, how would you suggest communicators keep you interested and engaged?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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