Using Interviews to Assess and Mentor Students

Interviews to Assess and Mentor Students
Have you considered adding five-minute student interviews to your teaching tool kit? Before you calculate how long it would take to interview all of your students and dismiss this idea out of hand, consider how student interviews provide a unique setting and opportunity for you to teach students individually.

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Have you considered adding five-minute student interviews to your teaching tool kit? Before you calculate how long it would take to interview all of your students and dismiss this idea out of hand, consider how student interviews provide a unique setting and opportunity for you to teach students individually. Extensive research confirms the value of student-teacher interactions. Sandy Astin's widely acclaimed What Matters in College reports that interaction between student and faculty has “significant positive correlations with every academic attainment outcome: college GPA, degree attainment, graduating with honors, and enrollment in graduate or professional school” (p. 383). In our experience we have found student interviews are a highly effective alternative or supplemental assessment method and teaching tool that students find valuable. We asked almost 400 college students enrolled in general education courses what benefits they receive from faculty interviews, and they reported that interviews enable them to receive immediate feedback, provide a unique setting to explain their work, and help them feel more responsible and accountable with regard the coursework. That's a laudable set of benefits. Here are the learning experiences we think interviews support.
  1. Performing: Brief interviews can provide students with opportunities to demonstrate proficiency. They may be especially appropriate in courses such as music, physical education, science, language, and nursing where mastery of specific skills is an integral requirement of the course. Brief discussions regarding students' performance may follow, when appropriate.
  2. Reporting: As a supplement to other traditional assessment methods, interviews can quickly identify what students have done as well as what they know. It may be appropriate in some courses to conduct longer, small-group interviews (perhaps for team project reports) that require a smaller time commitment than individual interviews. Reporting interviews have worked well for us in several courses, including a software engineering capstone course where student groups were required to demonstrate and explain their software as well as in a general education humanities course where individual students shared what they experienced while completing a self-selected personal development project.
  3. Mentoring: Interviews provide an opportunity for professors to compliment, assist, correct, address problems and opportunities, and demonstrate interest. All interviews may include a mentoring component, and they can be conducted exclusively for that purpose. Unlike testing and reporting interviews that often are scheduled for all students, mentoring interviews can be set up more selectively with a subset of students (e.g., those who've improved a lot, those who need to improve a lot, those who've done something exceptional).
Unlike other kinds of meetings students and teachers have in faculty offices, interviews are scheduled in advance, have stated objectives, and are generally more formal. Successful student interviews require advance preparation and planning by both the professor and the student. Here are some suggestions drawn from our experiences. We have found that interviews benefit us as well as our students. They can help us more accurately assess students' learning and performance. In some courses, providing immediate face-to-face feedback takes less time than preparing written critiques of student work. Problems and misunderstandings can sometimes be identified and resolved before they become larger issues. Unlike static written assessments where one format must fit all students, interviews provide an increased opportunity for on-the-spot tailoring and adjustments. Interviews are also a good way to get to know your students better. We recognize that incorporating student interviews can require significant time and effort, which means that interviewing is not always feasible or appropriate. But these are interactions that students value and learn from. Our experience, which is supported by student evaluation comments from many years, is that the time and effort needed for student interviews are investments worth making. Barbara Morgan Gardner, PhD, is an assistant professor and Kenneth L. Alford, PhD, is a professor at Brigham Young University. Barbara Gardner can be reached at Barbara_Morgan@byu.edu and Ken Alford can be reached at Ken_Alford@byu.edu.