Explore potential strategies.
Students are confused, bored, or frustrated with the course.Sometimes students engage in rude behaviors because they have become disengaged from the class. This can happen if they are bored, confused or frustrated. It can also happen if the material is sufficiently controversial or sensitive that students become anxious, uncomfortable, or angry. Sometimes students act rudely as a way of registering their disapproval with the course as a whole. This may be particularly true in required courses, but may also occur if students view the class as unfair, irrelevant, or disorganized.
If students are behaving rudely, pay attention to additional cues (e.g., body language, facial expressions) to determine the cause. If students look confused, you may have to slow down; if they look bored, you may want to pick up the pace. If they look disgruntled or angry, you may need to ask questions to diagnose areas of misunderstanding or discomfort. You may also want to collect information more formally (see next strategy).
If you cannot diagnose the problem on the basis of in-class observation, consider collecting more data on student understanding and/or student perceptions. Student performance on quizzes, assignments or exams, as well as on classroom assessment techniques (CATS) can give you a sense of whether the material is pitched at the right level for the majority of students. Information about student perceptions of the course (or specific content areas) can be gleaned via informal conversations with students in or outside class, by using an early course evaluation, by asking a T.A. to serve as a liaison with students, or by appointing a student ombudsman to relay student feedback to you. The Eberly Center can help collect additional information, for example by conducting focus groups with students.
If students seem disengaged or disgruntled, address the problem immediately. How you do this will depend on the nature of the problem and the objectives of the course. If the problem is situational and short-term (for example, during a unit focused on material that is particularly sensitive or emotionally provocative) it might be enough to simply prepare students better for their own and their classmates’ reactions, to provide them with venues (e.g., journals, blogs) to air their opinions and perspectives, and provide ground rules to ensure that discussions are respectful and productive. If the problem is one of slow pacing, you might want to pick up the pace for the class as a whole, or to encourage students who are bored to tackle more sophisticated variations on the assigned work. By the same token, if you find you are moving too fast (leaving a number of your students behind) you may want to slow down or offer extra review sessions outside of class time. Sometimes the problems involve the design of the course as a whole, or teaching problems that are more extensive. The Eberly Center can help you assess the situation and work with you to find appropriate solutions.
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