Ask a Professor

With Heather Moulton, English and Literature Instructor

Heather Moulton

Welcome to the first “Ask a Professor” column.

Question: Do you judge others by higher or lower standards than you use to judge yourself? A.V.

Answer: Thanks for the philosophical question, A.V. As with most things in life (and certainly in philosophy), there is no easy or even one answer to such a question. I am a perfectionist in many ways (not quite OCD), which means I have very high expectations for myself and for others. However, I realize that everyone has a different life experience than my own with his/her own trials, obstacles, and successes. It is unfair to judge another person by the standards I hold to myself if I don’t know that person’s background. Of course, if I take time to learn that person’s background, it probably means we’ve become friends, and I wouldn’t judge my friend (out loud, at least).

Question: Do teachers realize how disconnected students feel in the “emptiness” of the classroom, without more interesting activities like learning through teams or games, if all we do is study before-hand? – Seth Christopher

Answer: Great question, Seth! I honestly don’t think that instructors are (consciously) aware of the “emptiness” you speak of. I also hope that not all of your instructors make you feel disconnected from the classroom or the material being presented. Perhaps some perspective would help:

1. Many instructors (myself included) believe that everything we teach is fascinating and fun in its own right. We’ve gone to school for YEARS to master the subject we teach, which means we loved that subject, and everyone else should love it, too, without bells, whistles, songs, or dances.

2. School reflects life (sort of, mostly… let me check Facebook about that). Not everything we do or encounter in life is going to entertain us or fill whatever “emptiness” it is we (as humans) have. A person may be in a relationship that makes him feel more alone than when he was single. Another person may have a boss who doesn’t acknowledge all her hard work. What we have to learn is that such situations do not have to last forever: people can break up or find new jobs. If you are currently in a class and the instructor doesn’t work with your learning style, you don’t have to take that instructor again – there are many choices!

3. Times, they are a-changing. Old-fashioned pedagogy (the philosophical methods behind teaching) was pretty straight-forward: Teacher teaches, usually via lecture. Students sit quietly and obediently take notes. The end. Newer pedagogy does actually encourage instructors to engage students through discussion, “gamification” (a new pedagogical buzzword ), group work, visual media, and other non-lecture based ways. Tyler Mangrum, the former News Editor of (a web site dedicated to helping students “work smarter, not harder”) explains that students’ attention spans peak about 15 minutes into a lecture, making lecture relatively ineffective. The “flipped” classroom has actually become popular, which means “a student is always expected to complete any assigned reading or coursework prior to arrival, along with notes and questions meant to spark a debate.”

Here’s the rub: I work hard in my classes to avoid lecture and focus on in-class activities, group work, and discussion. I assign readings and expect students to be ready to participate when they come to class or work in groups. That often doesn’t happen. In other words, I (and many of my peers) will do everything possible to avoid the emptiness or disconnectedness between the instructor and student, but part of the responsibility must also lie with the student. If students don’t do their work, we must resort to lecture. Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I say, “Be the change you want to see in the classroom.” Visit your instructors during office hours and offer constructive feedback; talk to your friends and classmates about what you want to see in a classroom; then, write a story about it for the school paper and make sure that newspaper gets into the hands of the instructors.

What not to do: Don’t simply complain about your less-than-entertaining instructors on “Rate My Professor.” Many of us don’t read RMP, and it certainly should not be taken seriously (how seriously can a web site be if “hotness level” is one of the criterion for rating?). Your best bet is always talking to us in person – we’re human and we care about our students; help us help you!

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Closing thought: “A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest men.” –Roald Dahl} else {