Student’s response to “Dreaming of the Ideal Student”

Posted by on Feb 10, 2012 in News | 7 comments

Student’s response to “Dreaming of the Ideal Student”

While reading over professors’ responses from the article “Dreaming of the Ideal Student,” I was surprised to see what was most commonly mentioned. Half of the professors specifically use the word “engaged” to describe their ideal student. This is interesting because if you were to ask students to describe their ideal professor, I bet “engaging” would be the popular answer. While classroom engagement requires effort from both the student and professor, I offer a student’s perspective about what professors can do to meet us half way.

Keeping students engaged is a considerable task, as professors now have to compete with things like Facebook and Skyrim. The traditional lecture class is no match against the online world of instant gratification. Activities, guest speakers, and demonstrations all can break up the monotony in the classroom, but I imagine trying to make a production out of every class to battle for students’ attention could become exhausting. As one experienced in the realm of classroom distractions, I can personally attest to the effectiveness of a very simple yet underutilized technique to increase student engagement: ask questions at random.

Professors underestimate how well modern media has trained us to sit and consume information without having to fully process it. The surprise of being called on by the professor during a lecture to demonstrate some higher level thinking about what was just covered can help break this bad habit. The embarrassment from being called on after zoning out of the lecture makes me think twice about browsing Reddit or logging into Facebook during class, and the satisfaction of answering a question correctly serves as additional motivation to come to class prepared.

Besides keeping students alert, questions can also be used by professors to gauge how well students understand what is being taught. Moving on from a difficult concept too quickly and proceeding to build off of what students never understood in the first place is the easiest way for a professor to kill classroom engagement. If I get lost in the first twenty minutes of class, chances are that I will be lost for the whole class and eventually stop paying attention, nullifying the rest of the period. Having accurate ways to measure classroom understanding is essential to increasing engagement.

In my assessment, professors depend too much on students to ask questions when they are confused, but unfortunately this is not as reliable as we would like to think. Even at the university level, the ugly truth is that many students still have reservations about asking questions—myself included. When I am really lost, I have trouble forming my confusion into a question. Even if I have a question in mind, I begin to second-guess myself about whether it would be redundant to ask because maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention when it was covered. And although we all think that we have outgrown this, sometimes we are afraid of looking stupid. In most classes, the students that already had the best understanding of the subject from the beginning of class tend to be the only ones asking questions. When teachers rely solely on student questions to gauge classroom understanding, they may find themselves teaching to only a small percentage of the class.

Some professors at Georgia Tech have started using a polling system to get a more accurate picture of classroom understanding. This allows them to quiz the class with a basic question about what was just covered both to entice students to pay attention and to use the results to decide whether to move on or spend more time on that subject. As a warning to professors, you may be surprised to find out how much students missed from your lecture, but ultimately, seeing the feedback will help you communicate to students more effectively.

So maybe turning every student into an “ideal student” is out of the professor’s control, but at least for the most important aspect, professors yield substantial influence. Engaged students start from engaging professors. These professors know how to capture students’ attention and pace their lectures to maximize comprehension. Don’t wait for students to ask questions; instead, try asking students questions.

Bethany Sumner is an undergraduate student at Georgia Tech majoring in computer science. You can contact her at or visit her website at


  1. Special shout out to Dr. Ramachandran who makes great use of asking questions during lectures and keeps me engaged!

    • Never said I don’t look to grow itllleecnualty while at college, never said I’m unwilling to engage with the material, never said I don’t expect to have to work hard to get good grades and/or an enriching learning experience. I simply said that it’s ridiculous for this guy to get miffed if a student asks him if a certain theme/lesson will be emphasized on the test. Oh, I also said that it’s ludicrous for a college professor to place a prior restraint on inquiry from Day 1 in his classroom. Have you ever heard of there’s no such thing as a stupid question ? Most kindergarten teachers have, and they don’t make anywhere near what elite college instructors do. To answer your question: I’m interested in learning, and I’m interested in getting a diploma, and I don’t believe (as you evidently do) that the two are mutually exclusive domains. I believe that a good professor will teach and nurture students in such a way that getting a good grade entails learning the material and vice versa, and any honest professor will tell you that not every single element of every single lecture is equally as vital to either learning or getting a good grade. Ergo, it’s completely valid for time-crunch, energy-starved students to ask what will be on a test without their professor crucifying them for it and seizing some ersatz moral high ground so he can wax philosophical the grander morals of higher education.And you should never begrudge a student his concerns over the return he sees on his college investments; no one is entitled to a diploma simply for paying his tuition and showing up to class, but he is certainly entitled to an equitable and reasonable environment in which his hard work and study time will be rewarded with a passing mark. This might come as a revelation to you, Evan, but many people DO enroll in college in order to provide for a (gasp) career post-graduation, and to many people college is very much an investment. They may prioritize their grades over abstract principles of learning for learning’s sake. And they have every right to do so.Shape up, professor.

  2. I have fdneired my professors on Facebook before, but usually after I’m out of their classes for good. There are several reasons for my decision, besides the fact that the professors I add on Facebook are generally somewhat friends with me in RL, I also thought it’ll be a great way to stay in touch with them whenever I’m too busy to drop by and say hi in person, so that it won’t make everything so awkward when I need them to write my letters of recommendations for things like jobs and/or grad schools. Maybe it’s just me but I get very uncomfortable asking people who I hardly ever talk to or who hardly ever talk to me to do me such big favors. Everything seems so much easier for me when I actually befdneired them first before asking them to write and sign anything on my behalf. I think friending them on Facebook is also another way of showing that my friendship with them is truly sincere, another way of making the situation more comfortable when I do need them to do any favors. Plus, rather than just randomly adding them, I normally add a message to go along with it, asking them how they’re doing, how the classes they’re teaching are going, etc my way of making things less awkward as well.On the other hand, I can understand some students not wanting to add their professors due to privacy issues. Although my profile’s generally clean so can’t say I have much to hide. And speaking of which, you may not necessarily control what others post on your wall (well, actually you can but it involves totally banning certain people from posting on your wall) but you can actually control what others see. Go to privacy settings , click customize settings , and voila, you have the option of disallowing certain friends from seeing certain things on your profile as well as disallowing certain friends from posting certain things.

    • For my History of World Cinema courses, here’s what I’m hionpg my big “take aways” are:Students will be able to: Demonstrate familiarity with the historical progression of the major artistic movements and industrial developments for cinema as a medium. Construct an analytical argument about a film that relies on a close reading of film form and has a clear, specific thesis statement. Understand how historical and cultural contexts impact film style and aesthetics. Situate a particular film within its historical context, either as a product that reflects the context of its production, or a product influenced by previous historical movements or innovations.So this is 4, not three but as we discussed at the meeting, I think point 4 is really the skill that demonstrates the goal of point 3. Any suggestions would be awesome!Russ

  3. I’m not quite buniyg the non-transferable thing I can see being baffled by being asked to write like a lawyer, certainly, but I don’t see how that bafflement could override notions like when you make a claim, you need to present evidence to support it. I feel as though a lot of the complaints I see focus on things that could be solved with fairly basic editing and attention to pretty fundamental skills about how words and sentences should be put together.I’ve read papers where I thought oh, very nice command of language, but totally not doing what this paper needs to do , but I don’t complain about those students as bad writers , I complain about students who ignored the assignment.Perhaps our fault as faculty may be that we make writing seem too idiosyncratic, and don’t emphasize certain common rules enough, so that students fail to realize they do transfer to other classes. But I’m skeptical of the notion that the rule apostrophes should be used for possessives and contractions suddenly vanishes when students are asked to write in History rather than English. Maybe the students never actually learned that rule, and just learned by rote and repetition that Author’s Text requires a little blob in the right place.Now, when I see a complaint oh this student is such a bad writer , followed by a list of typos and grammatical errors that Word’s spellcheck would have caught, yeah, I think that prof has totally missed the point about what bad writing is.

  4. Wonderful train of thought. To pick up on a eipcsfic piece of this, I would be delighted if students were even interested in managing their own learning, much less ready and able to do so. How do you propose we transition students from the K12 morass that is NCLB and teaching to the test to a model of considered and thoughtful self-directed learning managed in coordination with faculty and the resources available from all possible sources?It’s similar to what Trillwing discusses regarding a focus on grades but what I see seems to be a bit different (personal epistemology lens vs motivation lens though they are all part and parcel of the larger whole). While I have a good chance with some of my returning adult learners, a number of them and most of the ones that come to graduate study directly from undergraduate study still look toward the recitation/received knowledge model. We use learning contracts in several courses and many students never really become comfortable with specifying their own learning goals and learning plan within a course.Orienting, modeling and scaffolding can only do so much when behaviors, beliefs, and values are ingrained from so many previous interactions. The way the CMS is set up doesn’t help but I don’t think it is the deciding factor.You certainly give us much to ponder here.

    • The three take-aways for my business wirting course are something like this:1. Students will be able to create a professional ethos. We’ll practice creating a professional ethos with every public communication we have during the class (to include discussion boards, etc.). The hope is that by studying what ethos is, how it is created, and examining examples of individual ethos and brand ethos (or identity), students will leave the class being able to establish themselves as trustworthy and credible professionals (on an individual level) and be able to apply techniques of individual ethos to creating an ethos (or identity) for the business they will work for in their future career.2. Students will be able to understand [not the best word here, but my brain isn't working well this morning] the different rhetorical choices a professional business writer must make these rhetorical choices are determined by audience (discourse community?), development of ethos, application of pathos, and an understanding of logos (and other techniques). The rhetorical choices will help them to make appropriate decisions about genre, document design, vocabulary, etc.3. Students will practice wirting in different genres commonly used in business communication. These include traditional formats (like letters, memos, and resumes) but also include social media and other forms of electronic communication (like emails, texting, and instant messaging).Thanks in advance for the feedback!Barb

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>