Teaching Unprepared Students: The Importance of Increasing Relevance

“Whether students arrive in your classroom underprepared (that is, their high school educational experience did not prepare them for the rigors of college work) or unprepared (that is, they are not ready to contribute and participate in your course on any given day), the way to help them is still the same.”

NYT 9/2013 Study Sees Benefit in Courses With Nontenured Instructors

National Bureau of Economic Research study based on data from more than 15,000 students who arrived at Northwestern University from 2001 to 2008.

Study Sees Benefit in Courses With Nontenured Instructors 
Published: September 9, 2013  

While many higher education experts — and parents — bemoan the fact that tenured professors are a shrinking presence, now making up less than a quarter of the academic work force, a study released Monday found, surprisingly, that students in introductory classes learned more from outside instructors than from tenured or tenure-track professors.

Students taught by untenured faculty were more likely to take a second course in the discipline and more likely to earn a better grade in the next course than those whose first course was taught by a tenured or tenure-track instructor, the report said.


See Also

  1. Berrett, Dan. “Ad­juncts Are Bet­ter Teachers Than Tenured Professors, Study Finds.” Chronicle of Higher Education September 9, 2013.
  2. Figlio at SSRN
  3. Jaschik Scott. “The Adjunct Advantage.” Inside Higher Ed September 9, 2013
  4. Safdar, Khadeeja. “Students Learn Better From Professors Outside Tenure System.” Wall Street Journal Blog
  5. Schapiro President of Northwestern Page 

An Information System We Could Use

Like most colleges, ours invests on an ongoing basis in administrative software for tracking students from admissions, academics and finances. New tools are invented to help administrators track course enrollments or for the registrar to get students registered for classes. Only exceptionally are innovations driven by our core business: teaching and advising undergraduates.

What if we had a system that students and their advisors could use to sketch out long term curricular possibilities. A sociology adviser, for example, might sit with a student and talk about how she could do a sociology major with a focus on things urban along with doing the pre-requisites for admission to the MBA program after graduation. The system would actually have built in a number of faculty-thought-through templates that would describe coherent constellations of courses built around different themes or emphases, but she’d be free to mix and match according to her interests.

The system would then query the database as to when various courses were currently expected to be offered over the semesters the student has left at the college and suggests her scheduling options.

Either based on the initial expression of interest or in response to a tentative checking off in the scheduling options, the system records the interest so that instructors and department heads have a prospective pre-pre-enrollment count. This information can be used to project staffing and/or to develop PR strategies (e.g., no one seems to be thinking about taking economics next year — maybe we should talk it up, advertise, put our best teacher in the intro class).

Additional features would be links from course listings to commentary from past/present students, curricular maps of alums along with descriptions of what they are doing now and perhaps commentary from them about how they wish they’d structured things, commentary from advisers as to WHY various constellations of courses make sense, and so on.

The specs for a system like this grow out of the real experience of teachers and advisers rather than the needs of administrators so it will probably never be built. Like most systems, though, just thinking through how it might work is a useful organizational exercise.