Relationships with Students Are What Matter Most

In our experiences, we have moved from teaching face-to-face to working in front of a computer with headsets to ditching the headsets in favor of classes taught in a totally asynchronous manner. We can see the advantages and disadvantages of all formats. With each new advance in technology, we have seen ourselves morph into those who teach in ways we never imagined. However, this article is not about mastering the instructional details of these new technologies. We want to revisit the importance of building and preserving critical relationships whatever way we deliver instruction.

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Over the last few years, much has been written about the need for and use of technology-based classes. A decade ago blended learning, synchronous and asynchronous teaching, Blackboard, and voice over Internet were not what we talked about when discussing how instructors share the knowledge students receive. Recently, there has been an emphasis on preserving the relational factors that make the interpersonal nature of college classrooms one of the most powerful experiences students have in postsecondary education. In our experiences, we have moved from teaching face-to-face to working in front of a computer with headsets to ditching the headsets in favor of classes taught in a totally asynchronous manner. We can see the advantages and disadvantages of all formats. With each new advance in technology, we have seen ourselves morph into those who teach in ways we never imagined. However, this article is not about mastering the instructional details of these new technologies. We want to revisit the importance of building and preserving critical relationships whatever way we deliver instruction. We want us all to remember why we all came to this profession and how our efforts to connect with students pave the way for the next generation of teachers, lawyers, doctors, and business owners. We offer three simple ideas for sustaining these powerful relationships. Have a servant's heart Ours is, after all, a profession characterized by giving. We give assignments, tests, and handouts and impart the things we know. We also give from our hearts and our minds, giving the gift of ourselves. We share our experiences and our lessons learned. We demonstrate and we sometimes pontificate. Most important, we give, and we can best do that by serving our professions and our students. When our students see and understand that our primary purpose is to serve, we help create the next generation of passionate, committed individuals who will in turn serve the generation after them. How do we serve? We serve through authenticity, through our full presence when we teach, through listening, and through being available to our students. Technology can sometimes complicate this, but as long as we remember that we are a profession of service, we will find ways to stay connected. Share your passion The word passion is defined as “an experience of strong enthusiasm.” Witnessing the passion of another often ignites one's own flame. When we reveal how passionate we are for what we study and how much we care about the work we do with students, we can spread the fire. Who among us has not had that one or those two teachers who helped to bring their subject to life just by approaching it with great enthusiasm? How many of us decided to teach because we had a teacher whose passion set us on fire? Do students see that strong fire of enthusiasm in us? When we love what we do and honor our work with gusto, we connect with our students. They feel our dedication and devotion, and they respond with new levels of eagerness and excitement. What better ways are there to connect than by standing side by side with shared fervor? It does not matter what format we use, our zest for the work helps sustain our relationships. Engage, engage, engage As a result of the technological bombardment in our profession, students can access a world of new experiences. That is the great news. The not-so-great news is that our use of technology sometimes turns what should be a deep and meaningful discourse into a line or two of text on a screen. The art of engagement is sometimes hard to maintain with so much competition for our senses. Just as the notions of service and passion must be a part of who we are, engagement adds the frosting to the cake. Drawing our students into the conversation with guiding questions, attentive listening, and carefully chosen instructional methodologies ensures that we keep them on the journey with us. Being mindful of our students' needs as well as their aspirations, we must continuously work to present them with deeply engaging, relevant, and meaningful work.
Summing it up The role of technology in teaching and learning has already been a subject of much debate, and as new possibilities emerge, we expect the exchange of ideas and viewpoints has just started. As we continue to debate how to best reach students, the relationships between faculty and students must be cultivated and preserved. By approaching our work with a servant's heart, sharing our passions, and continuously striving to keep our students engaged, we can remain focused on what keeps students and teachers connected in ways that promote learning and prepare professionals. Contact the authors at pattyk@uca.edu and cbarnes@uca.edu.