students respond to the classroom environment in different ways. Some
students do well no matter what, but others require a welcoming and
supportive classroom. Making it friendly for all begins by developing
a climate in which all students are recognized, respected, and valued.
this atmosphere begins with steps as simple as addressing each student
by name and providing an opportunity for them to learn each other's
names. Many students are more comfortable participating in class discussions
after they get to know the instructor and their peers. Since a cooperative
atmosphere comes partly from having the opportunity to contribute, the
instructor needs to encourage the quiet ones and restrain the exuberant.
Informal, small group discussions encourage everyone to participate
because they are much less intimidating than those involving the entire
class. Boisterous students tend to be a bit calmer in small groups.
into groups, be sure to give the class a task to accomplish. Students
often don't know where to start when told to discuss a topic.
And having a simple duty such each group giving as a brief oral report
to the entire class at the end of the session will keep students focused
on the task.
have to set certain standards of behavior, and if the students refuse
to meet them, the instructors must become disciplinarians. This includes
holding students responsible for their behavior in class. Students can't
be allowed to harass their classmates, and the instructor must step
in whenever it occurs. Jokes that belittle people are particularly insidious
since the harassing student will often claim it was just in fun,
but students may drop out of engineering because of them. Some forms
of harassment, such as ignoring another student's contributions during
group work because of gender or race, can be so subtle that the student
doing it is unaware of his or her actions. Video or audio taping class
sessions could be helpful, since insensitive students may only understand
their poor conduct when shown the evidence.
also should know the consequences of irresponsible behavior such as
refusing to work with a group to complete a design project. However,
if you respect the students, hold them responsible, and give them the
opportunity to reach their full potential, there will be few students
earning low grades.
As a professor,
even maintaining high levels of mutual respect inside the classroom
cannot eliminate the feelings of alienation that can trip up even the
brightest of students. First and second year students may not have assimilated
to the academic or social life of the institution or department. Without
a feeling of belonging, they become isolated. Some prefer to maintain
a social life outside the department, but there are those who will benefit
from departmental social activities. The student chapters of professional
societies can take a lead in this, but professors must support their
efforts by giving them time for announcements in classes, encouraging
attendance, and even attending some of the functions. Informal, out-of-the-classroom
interactions with professors can have a major positive impact on students,
perhaps because they tend to be rather rare. E-mail provides another
avenue for out-of-class contacts.
new students may not have learned how to navigate the university's bureaucracy.
For instance, a new student might not understand the importance of registering
for classes early. As advisors, you can explain the potential consequences
of registering late. Others don't know how to study. Providing study
hints and direction on setting up study groups during class can make
a significant difference in student learning, particularly for students
who coasted in high school.
can make a difference in the lives of our students. And often it is
not our expertise in engineering that helps the students having difficulties.
It is our caring as human beings.
Phillip Wankat is head of interdisciplinary engineering and the Clifton
L. Lovell Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering at Purdue
University. Frank Oreovicz is an education communications specialist
at Purdue's chemical engineering school. They can be reached by e-mail