Faculty: Getting in the Way of Learning

Students can disrupt a class—most of us have experienced that firsthand—but so can teachers. Teacher misbehaviors can also be disruptive. They can get in the way of learning. Sometimes these teacher behaviors are unintentional. Sometimes they are misunderstood by students. Sometimes teachers are tired and less focused than they should be. Whatever the cause, confronting actions that get in the way of learning is beneficial.

New research by Hoffman and Lee further explores disruptive faculty behavior. The January 2016 issue of the newsletter contains highlights from research in this area by Goodboy and Myers. Hoffman and Lee asked 100 upper division students to think of “two critical incidents in which faculty engaged in behaviors that adversely impacted the educational experience.” (p. 132) Then they asked students about each incident: how often it occurred, how seriously it disrupted, and what they’d recommend to discourage the faculty behavior. These study subjects had no trouble coming up with incidents that qualified for analysis—they identified 200.

Howard and Lee organized the incidents into four categories (using a services-marketing template). Here are the categories and some of the examples students identified.

  • Failures related to the core service–poor timeliness (arriving late to class, keeping students overtime); unfair assessment policies; disorganized course content (changing assignment requirements); poor delivery (reading the slides, not engaging students, low energy).

  • Failures related to implicit/explicit student requests–handling student questions/answers poorly (random cold calling, ignoring questions, arguing with students); not debriefing exams/assignments (not going over tests); mishandling students’ personal needs (failure to accommodate personal emergencies)

  • Failures related to unprompted/unsolicited faculty actions–exhibiting bias; exhibiting idiosyncratic behaviors (swearing, inappropriate sarcasm); exhibiting negative attitudes (rude to students, treating students like children); tangential content (going off topic, telling jokes, endless rants)

  • Poor approach to handling student disruptions–stopping class to discipline a student; inability to control the class.

The highest number of incidents (75) occurred in the third category. There were 73 incidents listed for the first category with 33 related to poor course delivery. In the second category, 34 incidences of mishandling student questions were described. As for the faculty behaviors that were most disruptive, students rated mishandling students’ personal needs highest, followed by not debriefing exams and assignments. Exhibiting negative attitudes and poor handling of student disruptions were tied for third.

Equally interesting in this work was the set of solutions students proposed as ways they could respond to the disruptions. Again the researchers put the solutions in one of four categories.

  • Change the professor–About an equal number suggested they try to do this by addressing the issue directly in class or by directly addressing the disruption with the professor outside of class. Some recommended indirectly addressing the issue by talking about it with an administrator or another faculty member. Ten percent recommended providing anonymous feedback. Overall, 63 percent of the suggested solutions fell in this category.

  • Change the students–Here students reported that they should act professionally and not use phones in class, arrive on time, and attempt to follow the rules and regulations set in place for the course. Encouragingly, only two percent proposed that students respond in a hostile way with ridicule or by giving the professors a taste of their own medicine. About 15 percent recommended that they do the work and be more engaged, essentially that they work around the professor. 27 percent of their suggestions related to changes that involved students.

  • Change the system–A few suggested students should work for institutional change, request better teachers, suggest teacher training and smaller classes.

  • Maintain the status quo–Only four percent recommended that students do nothing; professors aren’t perfect.

Reference: Hoffman, K.D., and Lee, S.H.M., (2015). A CIT investigation of disruptive faculty behaviors: The students’ perspective. Marketing Education Review, 25 (2), 129–139.

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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