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Antidote for Entitled 'Customers'

July 29, 2011

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Many professors are perplexed by their students’ entitlement complex. To their way of thinking, say the faculty, students see themselves as customers who deserve being treated as “always right” no matter how wrong, rude, inconsiderate, or otherwise bizarre they behave. In one recent essay, Brian Hall expressed his concern that students were telling him he wasn’t teaching to their style. In expressing his frustration, he uses the “e” word: “Maybe students are so used to our consumer-driven society that they have an inaccurate sense of entitlement. They believe the customer is always right … and I am only supposed to teach students what they want to know and nothing more.”

Equally dismayed is Elayne Clift, who concluded from her semester in hell that “Every college teacher I know is bemoaning the same kind of thing. Whether it’s rude behavior, lack of intellectual rigor, or both, we are struggling with the same frightening decline in student performance…. A sense of entitlement now pervades the academy, excellence be damned.”

In an interview with the authors of the newly published Lowering Higher Education: The Rise of Corporate Universities and the Fall of Liberal Education (University of Toronto Press), James E. Côté and Anton L. Allahar state, “The corporate model treats students like customers, and as customers they expect services and products for their tuition fees. The services include high grades in return for little effort. The products include guaranteed credentials with a guaranteed value. With this sense of entitlement, most will not prepare for classes, and expect all material to be told to them in simple terms in entertaining classes.”

Cumulatively these articles generate hundreds of comments, ranging from faculty at their wits’ end with underprepared and overdemanding students to others who suggest faculty leave the academy and their cushy jobs if they can’t handle their students. What seems in short supply are ideas worth trying that could eliminate entitled student syndrome and get all of us stakeholders in higher education united in achieving our common goal – students who demonstrate a passion for learning that enables them to graduate on time with good prospects for career success.

A hint toward a potential solution was offered in a comment to Hall’s essay: “It's not that complex. All they learned is there is no loyalty. They've watched every older family member get laid off, downsized, and outsourced. The only thing they believe in is building relationships on trust and credibility…. What makes you different from anyone else? The relationship, the relationship.”

As I see the problem, many students expect one type of college experience while their faculty believes in delivering something completely different. The resulting disconnect, manifested in students’ awful behavior, is owing to the gap between the desired and actual experience. To my way of thinking, a potential solution lies in doing the exact opposite of what faculty are inclined to do, which is giving students the idealized learning experience they themselves had or aspire to in their classrooms.

Instead, create a student learning experience designed empathically to meet students’ expectations. By “design” I don’t mean construct a syllabus, exercises and lectures, all those things we typically associate with course design. On top of all that usual activity, faculty members should try designing an actual experience for their students, modeled on the principles and qualities of iconic user experiences.

Does this sound like a recommendation to treat students as customers, and if so, isn’t that the root of the whole entitled student problem? If faculty have no control over student experience expectations anyway, why not turn it into a strategy for better behaviors conducive to learning?

Consider the potential value in approaching what happens in the classroom as if your job depended on how good an experience you delivered. If you were an independent consultant being paid directly by the students, as your customers, how many of them would recommend you to their friends versus how many would ask for refunds? The goal is an experience that builds relationships based on trust, leading to loyalty.

Here are three principles faculty can employ to create the student learning experience:

1. Start with why.
2. Write your experience brand statement.
3. Move toward totality

The ‘why.’ In his book, Start With Why, the author Simon Sinek explains why it’s critical to start anything you do, whether it’s selling widgets or teaching, by first articulating why you do it -- what’s your purpose, your belief, your reason for getting out of bed and going to your classes. He shares the stories of inspired leaders and others who succeeded where many failed. They all have one thing in common: the golden circle. At the center is “why”; the how (technique) and what (results) are peripheral. Sinek points out that no one buys what you do, they buy why you do it.

Just another meaningless “achieve success” business-jargon platitude? Think about it. You want your students to come to your class because they believe in what you offer them – because they believe in you. To paraphrase Sinek, if people buy why you do what you do, not what you do, and you have no clear sense of why you teach this material, then why should any student give you their undivided attention and respect? Because you have a title, some letters after your name and grading power? Sorry, that’s not good enough.

If the only message students get from you is that they must take this class to master some subject matter in order to succeed on assignments, that’s all based on the “what” of the golden circle. The “what” are your results -- what you get for your effort, such as a grade. What people want – and why they follow any inspiring leader – is to satisfy a deep innate desire to emotionally connect with other humans. Think back to your most inspiring instructors, and to those for whom you had only disdain. Which ones connected with you on an emotional level? Those instructors were the ones with which students wanted to build relationships.

Imagine sharing the why message in every class, each time. I teach instruction sessions. I only have 50 minutes – not 16 weeks. I could easily throw up a list of outcomes, like “you’ll be able to search a database” – who cares? The first thing I do is look them square in the eye and tell them that if they listen to me and work with me for the next 50 minutes, I believe they will do better in the course, improve their papers, and learn an important skill; I want them to believe in me first. Then I can deliver the experience that I’ve designed for the session. In answer to Hall’s question: no, you should not teach the students only what they want to know. Instead give them an experience that drives them to want to know what you have to offer.

The experience brand statement. The EBS is a way to express the why as a form of action; it defines the experience you want others to have in response to what you offer them. By establishing an EBS, the instructor seeks to deliver a consistent experience and touchstone for dealing with those situations that fall outside the norms of classroom behavior. Consider the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. It is universally recognized as the most famous fish market because of the unique experience it delivers. People flock there to buy the products, and take part in their totally unique and zany way of fishmongering. But it started with an EBS: treat everyone as if they are world-famous.

That’s the whole point of the EBS – to create loyalty and relationships – and to be different in how you go about it. What exactly do you bring to the classroom that students can’t get anywhere else or that they haven’t already experienced a thousand times since preschool? You may wish to dismiss this idea by telling yourself that you don’t have to do anything different because they are paying to learn, nothing more or less, and that as long as you teach the content you are doing your job and it’s their responsibility to be engaged, cooperative and respectful. But I ask, why should they if you don’t take the time to design an enlightening and engaging learning experience for them?

Move toward totality. What likely exacerbates the problem of the entitled student and the barriers to creating a student learning experience is that each faculty member teaches in a silo called the course. At most colleges and universities, there is no student learning experience. There is only the course experience, and it can differ radically from course to course. Most of the world’s iconic user experiences are the exact opposite of what happens in higher education. Imagine if every aspect of Apple’s business were a totally different experience. Your iPhone, your iPad, your iPod would all work completely differently with different interfaces. Each would require the use of a different web-based service, each with completely different experiences. You might need to go to different Apple stores for service. In other words, you’d have a broken system where none of the parts worked together, and you’d ultimately have one truly bad experience.

That’s why the best experiences are based on creating systems that work together – a systemic user experience that delivers satisfaction from the moment you first explore, through your interaction and all the way through until you end your relationship. Think of it as totality. The experience is great from start to finish, and is always consistent and coordinated at any touchpoint where contact occurs. Now, does any of that describe your college or university, or even the courses in your department?

So what would a course based on these three principles look like? A good example is provided by Ryan Cordell, who shared his beliefs on why it’s important to use technology to engage students, and provided examples and resources for creating this learning experience. If I had to sum up Cordell’s philosophy of applying technology to engage students in building their scholarly authoring skills as an EBS it would be: Students Will Get Their Intellectual Hands Dirty. Cordell’s belief, his purpose, is to immerse his students in a scholarly experience. Remember, your students don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.

In his Chronicle of Higher Education essays this spring about “The Perfect Storm in Undergraduate Education,” Thomas H. Benton shares his views on why higher education is academically adrift. He says, “Few people outside of higher education understand how little control professors actually have over what students can learn.” I found it so puzzling a statement. It’s the professor who has more control over what happens in the classroom to affect learning than anyone else. Granted, Benton has no control over his students’ level of preparation or the shortcuts other faculty take or their lack of rigor. But he – and every other instructor – holds ultimate control over the design of the unique experience that is the class, and the faculty can collaborate to create the total learning experience the institution delivers.

Like many faculty members, I suspect that Benton interprets the term “experience” only in negative ways, as in a manufactured college experience promised by administrators. In part two of the essay he writes, “Increasingly, students are buying an ‘experience’ instead of earning an education, and, in the competition to attract customers, that's what's colleges are selling.” If designed experiences are so powerful in selling students on choosing one college over another, why not design a course-level learning experience and sell students on what you offer them as their instructor?

The choice is up to each instructor. You can stop making excuses. Stop blaming it on poor preparation. Stop blaming it on the administrators. Stop blaming it on helicopter parents. Stop blaming it on MTV, video games and smartphones. Stop blaming it on society. Most of all stop blaming it on a student’s sense of entitlement. No amount of finger-pointing will create positive change or help you achieve the goals you set for yourself when you chose to teach. If it’s time to change something up, start with the learning experience the students get. Think about why you do it and how to design an experience around it. There’s no time for more excuses.

Steven J. Bell is associate university librarian for research and instructional services for Temple University Libraries. He blogs at the Kept-Up Academic Librarian.

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Comments on Antidote for Entitled 'Customers'

  • A Totally Unique, Zany Comment to you Famous People!
  • Posted by cdelance on July 29, 2011 at 11:30am UTC
  • "Consider the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. It is universally recognized as the most famous fish market because of the unique experience it delivers. People flock there to buy the products, and take part in their totally unique and zany way of fishmongering. But it started with an EBS: treat everyone as if they are world-famous."

    Let's get totally unique (not incompletely unique, that's the bad kind of unique) and zany! My students are world-famous! And they deserve to be!

    One thing that gets lost in these conversations is that very, very few employers are going to sit down and try to make the job they have to offer zany, seemingly unique, entertaining, and designed to make the former student feel deservedly famous. If a student is taught that he or she deserves to be entertained and treated as famous, won't a job be a stunning shock? At what point in time does the student learn to find, and get practice at finding, motivation within him or her self?

    For what it's worth, I do all the things recommended in the article. And students appreciate it. But I worry that they are never having to work a little to find the purpose in things, and the motives in themselves. This reinforces, rather than alleviates, a tendency toward inaction, toward filter feeding the amusing tidbits that float by, instead of hunting knowledge and opportunity.
  • Dead on, the wrong target
  • Posted by Shawn Williams , Asst. Prof, Social Science at Campbellsville University on July 29, 2011 at 11:30am UTC
  • I agree with a good bit of what you say, but I think you are missing the point. I agree that with you that education has a branding issue, and that we as faculty need to do a better job at branding ourselves and our programs. When advertisers promote a product, they sell it based on “why” you need it, not what it does. We sell our major this way; it is a big part of the reason why the students in our major are better than the average student at our university. A school, or major, or professor that does what you suggest over a number of terms will likely find they have better students than their counterparts.

    The problem is that marketers sell to niche markets. Apple products are very attractive to a certain demographic, but Apple computers are a small minority of the computers sold on the market each year. Far more popular or products like Windows (and know Android) where, after the newness of the “why” marketing campaign wears off, the consumer sacrifices some of the warm fuzzy relationship with the brand in exchange for building their own personal experience of immediate gratification. Professors that teach general education or cross-listed courses, classes which students MUST take rather than choose to take, will find that the value of branding erodes the first time they get a grade below expectations. “Why” they got it is increasingly irrelevant.
  • More free market jargon
  • Posted by Emily on July 29, 2011 at 1:00pm UTC
  • "Just another achieve success business jargon platitude? Yes.
    As for the disdain with which students treat the professional credentials of those who teach them, why attend an institution of learning in the first place? There are certain givens of the learning experience, such as respect for the teacher and for other students and the willingness to participate, engage and take responsibility for the student's role in his or her own success. Now we are told, in catchy acronyms, that this isn't enough. We are selling a product, whether widgets or knowledge is unimportant. This idea is not only offensive, but unrealistic. At the end of the day, if these students feel they are entitled to get a guaranteed lucrative degree without work, no amount of repackaging the real purpose of college is going to enlighten them.
    Emily
  • Great Article
  • Posted by DocV on July 29, 2011 at 1:15pm UTC
  • First, let me state that this is one of the most inspirational articles that I have read in a long time.

    I found it amusing that a sense of entitlement is defined by students indicating that the instructor does not teach to their learning style. This is one of the areas covered in my course, Principles of Successful Learning, however the goal is for them to recognize their own style and be able to adjust to the instructor's style, not vice versa. Hopefully, the student who said this was only using it as lame excuse as to why he/she didn't do well and not to change the instructor's style.

    Personally, I have been told on MANY occasions that I would be a great instructor. I taught the aforementioned course once and the students and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This article has helped me to relate to "why" this happened - because I truly believed (1) in what I was teaching; (2) if the students earnestly completed the exercises, it would put them on the path to academic success; (3) and the students accepted it.

    This article has helped me to be able to explain it in the future in a more deliberate way and hopefully will take the stress off of the students for "just completing the exercises" but also diving in and really enveloping the work that they are doing. It is my hope that this will carry forward in their future classes even when the instructor does not have a high "believe-ability" factor.

    I plan to enter back into the classroom this fall with a sense of energy as described by this article - knowing the "why" of how I will operate.
  • Posted by Lee on July 29, 2011 at 1:15pm UTC
  • In my experience, the greatest danger to higher ed and to the students' intellectual future is that they come to us almost entirely lacking in curiosity. Since "seeking" is widely agreed to be a primal human motivator, we do need to ask ourselves how this happened, not just what we can do about it in the short term.
  • working class students
  • Posted by Brooklyn adjunct on July 29, 2011 at 1:31pm UTC
  • Isn't this a class issue? I haven't found entitled student-"consumers" while teaching at a working class public college. And as the critics of the "corporate university" note, if higher ed were better subsidized, it would not be creating student-consumers. Students are paying huge amounts of money and going into huge debt, giving them a sense of entitlement. So the solution isn't in the classroom but in the boardrooms and statehouses.
  • Dead On....
  • Posted by Leonard on July 29, 2011 at 1:31pm UTC
  • @Shawn - When advertisers promote a product, they sell it based on “why” you need it, not what it does.

    I like this...the product is usually promoted either based on fear, sex, or both. Fear is that you don't buy this you will be fat, you will die, you will ugly, etc.

    There are so many arguments to preserve programs within the liberal arts so it will be interesting to see if the "fears" shake out in the end. Perhaps as faculty fight to save their positions, programs, etc., they should really take a hard look at this. I know that they are, but perhaps there is more to be uncovered in terms of the declination of the academy.

    will be interesting to see how this shakes out especially with so many programs in the
  • Posted by Livvy on July 29, 2011 at 1:45pm UTC
  • I think one of the problems is that students are having to pay so much and honestly if I had to pay so much and be in debt for a degree I would want the teacher to teach in a way that helps me maximize my learning and not give pointless busy work.

    When you earn your way to college and have scholarships you end up with a much different outlook then if you pay thousands of dollars each semester. We need grades based scholarships so those who earn A's and B's get a degree for little to no money and those who don't have the grades have to pay.

  • Pointless busywork?
  • Posted by Comm prof on July 29, 2011 at 2:45pm UTC
  • @Livvy:

    "Pointless busywork"? I can't believe that any professor gives students a task without a point. Is it possible that students sometimes just don't SEE the point? Perhaps this is a communication issue and we need to work a little harder to help students understand how what we ask them to do fits into the larger picture of the course objectives.
  • Rhetorical Situation
  • Posted by arby on July 29, 2011 at 3:00pm UTC

  • Bell makes some very good points regarding how we can enthusiastically teach and engage, intellectually and emotionally, with our entitled students. I've been doing what he has suggested for years. His line of thinking is nothing new, though it is nice to be reminded.

    However, I look at what he teaches and where he teaches, and I wonder how his tune might be different if he were, say, a part-time adjunct with a ph.d. at a community college who never knows if s/he is going to get sections to survive for the next quarter/semester, whose students are recovering addicts, single moms, young and old, transgender, recent and not so recent veterans, and the list is long (students who are indeed disenfranchised in several ways but still operate within the realm of entitlement on some level--and remember entitlement manifests itself in various ways)?

    Since we live in a very toxic and oppressive culture and are not outside of it, it is difficult not to look at the root causes of WHY our students are entitled. It's certainly easy to to blame the culture of society, technology, helicopter parents, administrators, and even MTV, but it is important to see in what specific ways these phenomena shape the way our students envision and define what education means and what kind of educational experience they hope to have--indeed, the way they see the world and their place in it.

    At its core--though, again, it's nothing new--Bell's model for meeting the entitled student where s/he is a good idea. But our students could stand to be much more responsible and accountable beings. They could stand to be more intellectual, to think more critically, and they certainly could stand to try.

    Teachers alone do not make the classroom. There is a dynamic there, a give and take. Students often do have a hand in shaping the kind of classroom they want to create (at least mine do), yet many students fail to see that they are also a part of the equation, that it takes two to tango or two lines for a contradance. It's not just up to us teachers to do this work.
  • Same ol', same ol'
  • Posted by John Webster , English at U of Wa on July 29, 2011 at 3:00pm UTC
  • Every generation of teachers develops its own excuses for their inability to engage students. The notion of student "entitlement" as a powerful motive for ignoring their teachers is one such. What may be new about "today's students" is that some of them tell you more clearly that they don't understand why you are teaching them whatever it is you imagine you are teaching them. My generation of students didn't know as much about how to talk back.

    So if they are feeling "entitled," and if entitled means "I want to understand why this material matters to me, and how it connects to other things I know and the values it offers for a future life," then I'm all for it. The fact is that many of us teach what we teach because we love it (or once loved it), but we haven't ever sorted out why someone without our own predilections would feel the same. We think they should just listen and learn to whatever we think is interesting and important.

    But nothing is interesting in and of itself. It is always interesting, or not, to a particular mind. The challenge of teaching is learning how to interest others in what you have found interesting enough to make a career. There are many, many books out there to help one see how to do this. Susan Ambrose, et al., How Learning Works: 7 Research-based Principles for Smart Teaching" [2010] is a first-rate example. Chapter 3, on Motivation, is particularly useful in this context.

    People should stop indulging in the cliches and excuses that blame their students and do a little learning of their own.
  • branding?
  • Posted by missoularedhead , Adjunct on July 29, 2011 at 4:00pm UTC
  • The ideas...well, yes. But branding? I don't know about that. I suppose it's just a term, but I find it ....unnerving. I'm not a brand, I'm a teacher. (Oy, even that sounds odd).
    I think the biggest shift is that I would never have thought about why a professor was asking me to do X or Y...they were the authority, and thus, were the ones who knew why. It's not our teaching students question, it's our pedagogy. Why am I asking students to read this particular novel, or that particular textbook?
    More disturbing to me is the sense of...well, perhaps we can call it 'political entitlement.' Over the last year, I've had students complain to me that my textbook is 'written by a known socialist', that asking what political party Thomas Jefferson would belong to today was an attempt to root out their political stance, refuse to read creation stories other than Genesis, and in an ethics class, I had one student who would regularly leave the classroom because I was too 'liberal' and allowed 'non-biblical' teachings to be discussed....the list goes on. Admittedly, I am in a state where libertarian/tea party sentiment is strong, but dang.
  • I love it ...
  • Posted by Tom on July 29, 2011 at 4:30pm UTC
  • I love the fact that Bell is a librarian writing an article telling teaching faculty how to teach. Of course, it's possible spends a lot of time in the classroom, but the tone of article suggests not: he seems to spend most of time reading articles where teaching faculty vent about their students. Well, "venting" doesn't really mean much. What Bell needs to do, before he starts condemning teaching faculty is to see, firsthand, what professors do in the classroom.
  • Would work in Imaginary Land
  • Posted by gregS on July 29, 2011 at 5:00pm UTC
  • So, which students should our brand most appeal to? Classrooms – whether intro or specialized – include a wide variety of students with wildly varying expectations, abilities, and attitudes. Multiple times I have had students write in evaluations my course is the best they have taken (ever), but simultaneously received scathing evaluations from an equal number of students. Often, they were complimenting and complaining about the same thing(s)!

    The solution is simple. Develop a tough skin and teach to the best of your ability. Make it clear YOU run the classroom and make it clear students will sink or swim based on how hard they work. No wishy-washy bending over backward to be their friend.
  • Trolling Faculty?
  • Posted by Jonathan Dresner on July 29, 2011 at 5:45pm UTC
  • This article seems designed to elicit negative reponses, nearly approaching self-parody. This could only have been written by someone who's never assigned homework, or outside readings, or taught a sequence of courses. In short, ignorable advice from someone who hasn't thought all that hard about what we do.
  • Change
  • Posted by Bear , Student Retention at CC on July 29, 2011 at 5:45pm UTC
  • Wonderful article. Great stuff for me to read prior to re-entering the classroom this fall. The critics of this approach do not see their own shortcomings reflected in their misgivings, the very issues this approach attempts to address.

    I, for one, will take heart from this essay and try to change that which I can (my approach to teaching) and accept that which I cannot (my students' approach to learning). Just maybe, my enthusiasm will provide a powerful example for a handful of class members and the remainder will be none the worse for the experience.
  • The Medium IS merely the Message
  • Posted by David , Prof on July 29, 2011 at 6:00pm UTC
  • If students seem entitled it is merely because they are reflecting the message they get from educational institutions and personnel. When institutions begin sending the message that you get out of it what you put into it, so will students. That is a brand worth having.
  • The Students Future Is the Customer
  • Posted by Bob Sweo , Faculty at University of Central Florida on July 29, 2011 at 6:30pm UTC
  • Getting past the “student is the customer” mentality is fairly simple. I always explain to my students that they are not my customer, their future is. If the student were my customer then I should just give them the A they ask for but since their future is my customer I have an obligation to help them identify their strengths and weaknesses so they can use that knowledge to build a better future. If that requires me giving them an F then so be it. Working for an A will also improve their future by teaching them the value of hard work. For those that earn a B or C after hard work, it teaches them that working hard isn’t always enough, at least in the short term, and sometimes they won’t win no matter how hard they work because they started out behind or have to many other constraints. Again all messages they need to make their best future.

    Making the students future my client puts all sorts of constraints on me as well. If there future would be better if I always explained “why” and kept their attention through inspiring materials (as recommended here) then it is up to me to do so. It also requires I always keep the students futures in mind as I decide what material to teach (is this relevant to their future or just something people have always taught in this class) then again it is requisite I do so.

    Most painfully, if focusing on students futures means I must assign writing assignments and other that are difficult to grade with the size classes I teach, well tough break. It isn’t always easy but if you focus on the students future and show that to students you will be amazed at how far the students will go to help (themselves).
  • Thank You
  • Posted by Kevin , History Prof at Grand View University on July 29, 2011 at 7:00pm UTC
  • Thanks for a great essay. It raises interesting, and for me some challenging, ideas, but I found it well-argued and persuasive on many points. I too would love to have the ideal, eager student in all my classes...but I play the hand I'm dealt. This essay gives me some good ideas for doing that better.

    It's no stretch to say that faculty tend to be uncomfortable with the business-style language ("branding"), but good ideas are presented in many fashions, some of which we may find challenging--isn't that what we try and tell our students?
  • Pot Meet Kettle
  • Posted by mike on July 29, 2011 at 8:15pm UTC
  • This is too funny. Adjunct faculty who complain they are entitled to benefits and tenure track positions. Tenure trackers who feel entitled to lifetime job security. ( Becuase they teach their students about the 'right' of men to marry men and how evil and stupid people who aren't 'progressive' are.) These are the people who complain that the ones who pay their salaries (via tuition or taxes) are feeling too "entitled"?

    "Professors" who ran away from the world into prepetual school now find they couldn't run away. They are part of the free market after all. Pathetic...
  • Retention and real world expereinces
  • Posted by Jennifer , Asst Prof- Business at AIU on July 30, 2011 at 1:45am UTC
  • I started teaching in career colleges because I have special skills in healthcare. My continued employment was predicated on retention but also on efficiency of delivery. If they didn’t get it and didn’t pass their boards, then I was partially to blame; if they left my class, I was partially to blame. My students were primarily adults, but there were some “traditional” students there as well. The younger ones were actually easier to handle, surprisingly.
    I have "graduated" to real academia, but I maintain my focus on interaction with the students. Evidently real academia doesn’t care about retention in the same ways, but the same teaching skills are transferable, in my experience. I have had relatively little problem with the same students my peers find entitled and particularly difficult by setting the stage at the outset.

    "I am here for you , not the other way around" and "this is hard, but I am here to help you" and also " three respects: respect me as your teacher, respect your peers by being patient and aware that you are different and respect yourself by doing your own work and being prepared". The idea that they will never see this material again until they are having to build on it later, or needing it for a job (the biggest point) seems to have carried over into my non-career college students quite well. The “why” may need to be aimed at "how does this get/keep me a job" for the current populations.

    I also make sure they know that at some point they will be my peers and if they do a poor job in the real world, they are my calling card so to say and I will not be pleased if they don't know what they are doing when they get there. I equate grades to salaries and deadlines to "write-ups" in the work world.


    Maybe that will help
  • Asymmetry
  • Posted by Dismalist on July 30, 2011 at 1:45am UTC
  • Bell's well-intentioned suggestions are beside the point. Engagement is good, but only on the instructor's terms.

    The education market is one that suffers from asymmetric information. Buyers know little and purchase what they think is a good product for themselves. As most young people don't know squat, successful sellers are those that pander to the young, and perhaps their ever youthful parents. However, the modes of pandering--low work requirements and high grades--destroy the signalling value of a degree earned with good grades.

    It's not different from a used car market in which the bad cars drive out the good. Think of a university selling used cars, and one will understand what's going on.
  • Branding?
  • Posted by Henry Vandenburgh , Professor, Sociology at Bridgewater State University on July 30, 2011 at 2:15am UTC
  • Isn't "branding" over yet? What does technology have to do with any of this? (Oh, that's your job. I see.) I do pretty well with my largely working class students without doing any of the stuff this librarian is talking about.
  • missing the point, again
  • Posted by michael on July 30, 2011 at 11:00am UTC
  • Yet another article by a marketer telling professors that they should be marketers too.
    Tell me something: why should anyone assume that an undergraduate student is a fit judge of whether or not the subject matter or structure of a class is appropriate? As much as the popular narrative of the era is that expertise has no value, anyone who thinks for a moment knows that this is not true. We don't go to auto mechanics to get our broken bones repaired, and we don't go philosophers to get our plumbing repaired. We understand that expertise has value; in fact, we depend on it.
    Somehow, though, there are many people in our society who think that because they spent a few hours a week for three or four years in classrooms, that they know how a class should be taught better than faculty who have spent decades learning their disciplines and honing their teaching craft.
    The final word, though, is this: students are not customers. Students are not clients. Students are students. If they don't come to learn, then they should not come at all.
  • Thanks for Reading this Essay - and the Comments
  • Posted by StevenB on July 30, 2011 at 11:45am UTC
  • I appreciate all the comments, positive and negative - and negative is mostly what I expected - so I'm pleased with those who've shared their stories about how focusing on a classroom learning experience (or whatever you want to call it if you don't like that phrasing)helps them create an emotional bond with their students. I'm enthused that the ideas I've shared have inspired a few IHE readers to give this some more thought - if you want additional information please get in touch and I'll offer some suggestions. What I've written here only touches the surface.

    Although I wholly anticipated comments like Tom's - and yes I am susceptible there b/c I'm not regularly in the classroom (although I have nearly 20 years of experience adjuncting, countless hours working with college students individually and in library instruction sessions and coursework in education) - it does sting a bit the way some commenters used my professional affiliation here - "librarian" - to simply dismiss the seriousness of my ideas or the opportunities they could provide - as though a librarian couldn't possibly have anything useful to offer to a faculty member in the way of advice on teaching.

    So I truly appreciate the comments like Kevin's b/c of their open minded approach to the ideas I've presented - and he nails it when he says that many faculty have difficulty accepting any ideas that are grounded in business - b/c everyone knows that higher education is not a business. But Kevin and I are of a like mind. Good ideas can come from anywhere. He's not discounting what I have to say b/c I'm a librarian. He's looking for any good ideas that can help him connect with his students and improve what happens in and beyond the classroom. And none of this suggests pandering to students, coddling them, dumbing down content, or easy work and high grades. The experience a faculty member designs should be based on high standards for quality engagement by the students.

    I have no illusions that the majority of IHE readers would adopt these ideas (and there's much more to learn for those who want to), but I'm fine if they connect with a small minority who think about their teaching in innovative ways, and are open to experimenting with new ideas - based on the quality of those ideas and not the professional status of the author. Real change and the diffusion of new ideas always happens at the fringe, not in the middle. That said I appreciate the time you've taken to read this essay and all the comments. I will learn something from each of them that will help me to better shape these ideas for future dissemination.
  • puzzling
  • Posted by Jess , Assistant Professor of English on July 30, 2011 at 5:00pm UTC
  • Bell says he only teaches in 50 minute instruction sessions, with presumably a new audience each time, and writes: "He says, 'Few people outside of higher education understand how little control professors actually have over what students can learn.' I found it so puzzling a statement." Maybe that's because it's easier to hold someone's attention for fifty minutes than for sixteen weeks. Go figure.
  • librarians teach too
  • Posted by Maria on July 30, 2011 at 8:15pm UTC
  • This piece and the long queue of comments have led me mainly to consider how much of teaching is a dance. That's my metaphor of choice. Teaching/learning requires mutual respect and a degree of adaptability. The students in our classrooms today have been shaped by parenting trends and many other phenomena. As teachers who are also developing individuals, we are also in flux. Reflecting on teaching practice is good, and it's not always easy.

    I am not a librarian, but with my librarian friends, I often compare notes on what we observe in students' behaviors. Librarians' teaching tasks are not simple as technology promises to "search" for us (but a human mind is still needed).
  • Only Wish I Had More Time
  • Posted by StevenB on July 30, 2011 at 9:00pm UTC
  • @Jess - It's not about how much time you have to hold someone's attention. It's about the amount of time it takes you to gain someone's trust and build a relationship (or emotional connection) with them. That's the whole point of designing the learning experience for your classroom. Take a moment and consider, in fact, the challenges of trying to connect with students when you only have 50 minutes - and you want to affect a change in their research behavior. I would only hope to have more time to gain their trust through a well-designed experiential learning activity. Consider also, that as a librarian, I hold no grading or disciplinary power over the students I teach. So I truly have no "authority" control over them as you do. If I don't win their trust in the first few minutes I've probably lost my opportunity to make a difference for them. So I still stand by my reaction to Benton's statement.
  • simplistic arguments based on untested assumptions
  • Posted by Ken on July 31, 2011 at 11:15pm UTC
  • "What seems in short supply are ideas worth trying that could eliminate entitled student syndrome and get all of us stakeholders in higher education united in achieving our common goal – students who demonstrate a passion for learning that enables them to graduate on time with good prospects for career success."

    How can college professors control the job prospects for career success of students in outsourced late capitalism? I suppose the author means help your students to get what few jobs that are available over others. Assuming your students don't have family connections and aren't attending prestigious institutions, then what might make them more successful than this kind of competition?

    The basic ability to read critically, reason, and write well, I assume, might help. Those skills are only developed through hard work and a willingness to consider others points of view. Efforts to give students the experience they wanted will fail when, for a sizable percentage of students, what they want is not to work hard.

    Since we are engaging in speculation absent evidence, let me add my own speculation: a study of classrooms of sufficient diversity that met the imagined characteristics proposed by the author would not change the problem of student entitlement any more than it would change the underlying economic realities.

    The students that we all complain about are usually not the majority in the average class. Maybe a third of students at worse. We remember the bad examples because they can be quite bad. If we helped students who are willing to work hard and needed remediation, but gave lazy students the grades they actually deserve - including failing students for cheating - then the problem of entitlement would go with the bad apples.
  • The Puzzle of the Underprepared Student
  • Posted by Debra , Mathematics on August 3, 2011 at 3:15am UTC
  • After years of whining about student behaviors associated with under-preparation for my classes, I finally learned a valuable lesson. Each student that misses class, fails my tests, fails to do homework, blames me for his or her failures, etc., is actually a puzzle for me to solve. When I review a negative event between myself and a student with a mindset of "how could I have done that differently?", I invariably discover a new strategy to add to my growing list of best teaching strategies. Usually, I have to admit to myself that I was remiss in some area of the student's learning experience. Perhaps I didn't clarify the parameters of an assignment or a test. Perhaps my feedback was too terse. Perhaps I assigned a project too close to finals week. Each time I make an adjustment in accordance with a sincere reflection on the role I played in a relationship with a student that went sour, I find a slightly healthier morale the next time I teach that class. I heartedly recommend taking the author's suggestions as a tool to help you solve the puzzle of negative student behaviors. Seeing a student "turn it around" after I have placed a new strategy in effect is one of the very most rewarding experiences I've had in my classroom.