Faculty Misbehaviors

These behaviors, studied at length in the Communication Education research, “refer to any instructor classroom behavior that interferes with instruction and learning.” (p. 133). They were first identified in research published in 1991and have in subsequent studies been shown to compromise students’ affective learning, their cognitive learning, and their levels of motivation. They also have been shown to “produce oppositional responses from students.” (p. 135)

The original research identified 28 of these faculty misbehaviors, which fall into three categories: instructor incompetence, which does not relate to a lack of content knowledge but to a lack of basic teaching skills; instructor offensiveness, which results when instructors use poor interpersonal communications skills; and instructor indolence, which refers to a lack of basic procedural skills.

The Goodboy and Myers research team felt that given the continuing importance of this research, an update of the original work was in order. Technology is now widespread on campuses, affecting how both students and professors communicate. “It is likely that these classroom technologies that were not available in 1991 play an important role in how students perceive and respond to their instructors’ communication….” (p. 135) The researchers also believe that the changing culture of college students has implications for classroom communication. The characteristics and needs of millennial students have been written about extensively. They perceive themselves to be more entitled than previous generations did and therefore expect that time and effort will be directed toward them. If faculty do not respond to these expectations, students may perceive these responses as misbehavior.

The research team had two goals, which they accomplished through three studies. First they wanted to update and revise the typology of instructor misbehavior. Second, they wanted to create a reliable and valid instrument that would operationalize the behavior. To revise the typology, they started by asking students to “think back over your college career and recall specific instances where teachers have said or done something that irritated, demotivated or substantially distracted you in an aversive way during a course.” (p. 136) The 233 participants came up with 1,783 unique examples of misbehavior. Researchers grouped them in 43 categories, which included 27 out of 28 of the original behaviors and 16 behaviors not previously identified.

The top 10 behaviors, in rank order, were (1) ineffective teaching behaviors; (2) deviation from the syllabus; (3) boring lectures; (4) unfair grading; (5) technology [as in not using it effectively]; (6) information overload; (7) late return of work/items; (8) time management, tied with unresponsiveness to students; and (10) email [as in not responding to it].

To create an instrument of manageable size, the researchers used factor analysis, which enabled them to identify 16 items that accounted for almost 60 percent of the variance. Factor one they labeled antagonism, and it included teacher put-downs, aggression, lack of professionalism, being opinionated, and playing favorites. Factor two they labeled lectures, and it included boring lectures, information overload, and confusing/unclear delivery of content. Factor three they called articulation, and it included speaking with an accent and problems with pronunciation.

In study three, various empirical methods were used to verify the reliability and validity of the 16-item instrument. Goodboy and Myers found that the first two factors were valid in that when instructors displayed those behaviors, various student learning outcomes were compromised. Associations between the third factor and learning outcomes were weak.

Some of the new faculty misbehaviors identified in this research are interesting. For example, email; students expect instructors to use it and to use it correctly. They consider requiring unnecessary expenses for course-related materials misbehavior, especially if those materials are rarely or never used in the course. And they consider it misbehavior when faculty don’t offer everyone in the class extra-credit opportunities. The emergence of these student preferences “highlights the entitlement students bring with them to the classroom, as this [category of] misbehavior centers on the dislikes they associate with instructors’ expectations and requirements.” (p. 147) These student behaviors reflect “the idiosyncratic needs students believe should be met by their instructors. . . he ‘expects us to take tests on Fridays’ and she ‘asks for an excuse when we miss class.’” (p. 147) The researchers did not consider this evidence of the change in student culture a legitimate category of faculty misbehavior. From the student perspective, actions like these may be annoying, irritating, and unpleasant, but they don’t compromise learning. In fact, some of them actually promote it.

It’s easy to read descriptions of behaviors like these and conclude that “these aren’t things that I do.” But often what one person considers a put-down wasn’t intended as one at all. A careful review of the behaviors identified in this research, along with honest self-reflection, is a healthy activity for every teacher. And for those who really want to know, this research has generated an instrument that could be given to students. 

Reference: Goodboy, A.K. and Myers, S.A., (2015). Revisiting instructor misbehaviors: A revised typology and development of a measure. Communication Education, 64 (2), 133-153.

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