My biggest to-do today is to grade the last set of midterms, but before I get to that I have one more article I have to mention. It was another of those from the I-really-should-read-this-sometime stack that finally got tackled during proctoring this week. The title Do Your Students Care Whether You Care About Them? was no doubt the reason I downloaded it in the first place, and it didn’t disappoint. The thesis of the article is that there is a gap between the importance that students and faculty place on the interpersonal relationship between instructor and student. The author deftly argues that several things faculty measure, like student satisfaction and learning, are impacted by the impression that students have of faculty attitudes toward them. He then goes on to suggest ways that faculty can improve their relationship with students, without negatively impacting things like authority and learning standards. I found the suggestions he had helpful enough that I offered to present the paper next week at a newly-formed lunchtime meeting of faculty in my college.

The thing I found most interesting about the article though was the author’s suggestions for future work. He first notes that the importance that faculty place on rapport with students varies greatly by discipline:

Hoyt and Lee (2002) reported that professors from some fields generally assign relatively low importance to developing rapport in their instruction (e.g. chemistry, computer science, history), other endorse moderate importance (e.g. biology, mathematics, psychology), and some greatly value rapport building (e.g. communications, education, English literature).

That computer science is specifically mentioned as an “uncaring” field isn’t a surprise to me given other things I’ve read about the atmosphere in CS classrooms. He then goes on to ask a bunch of really interesting questions about rapport with respect to both disciplines and faculty status, including:

  • Do students consequently expect more or less care depending on the discipline?
  • Do they compare instructors within a particular field against each other, or do they compare professors across disciplines?
  • Does this suggest that students within particular majors systematically have more distant relationships with faculty members throughout their education?
  • Are female faculty members expected to care more about students than are men, and are they consequently held to a higher standard?
  • Does the need to express care differ by professors’ race and ethnicity?
  • Does rapport building by faculty of color encourage greater student trust and respect, or does it unintentionally undermine their credibility and authority given societal prejudices?

It’s clear to me that I’m going to have to spend part of the summer tracking down further research on this subject. I want to know if anyone has answered these questions!