What I Wish I Had Known About College: Help (2 of 4)

What I Wish I Had Known About College: Help (2 of 4)

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  • Teachers are (can be) consultants for you, not just graders of your work. This a continuation of the discussion that began here.


If you consider teachers to be graders who walk you through the content before giving you a test, you wouldn’t be dissimilar to most college students in that regard. You would, however, be missing a grand opportunity revealed to some lucky students who work more closely with professors. Professors are often good at what they do outside of teaching. Their expertise in the field is what qualifies them as university educators. I would even argue that many are better professionals in their field than they are teachers. So, why would you forego the benefit of their best skills?

martin-davidson-profile Darden SchoolThe answer is mainly in the fact that most of us were never taught how to utilize a consultant, advisor, or expert. We only know how to use teachers as teachers. I would argue that as not being used well either. To make the transition to utilizing your teacher as an expert, you need at least 3 decisions. First, you must decide what your project and goal are for the knowledge you are learning. Second, you must identify the working relationship that is possible. Third, you must determine how the project and relationship work within the context of the course.

Your project for each class is a major decision born in your personal responsibility for learning. You must decide that school and each course is not just for progress, each is for learning, contributing to a larger goal. They each are a piece of a larger puzzle that is your degree program. The best courses, grounded in competency-based education, will have a project that combines the skills expected in the course into some activity. Engage your professor to review project outline or prototypes and to critique your brainstorms of how the project can be applied in the world outside of class.

Engaging the professor will give you insight into the professional relationship that is possible. Every teacher is not interested or skilled at providing insight and their expertise to students. The hope is that you can at least receive a response to your careful and intentional presentations of complete projects. The best professors will recognize your personal responsibility and your production with thoughtful responses. Focus on complete, written proposals and finished sketches, mock-ups, or prototypes of projects. Don’t seek out the professor for answers to test questions or vague brainstorms.

The course is the reason you are here, but it can be more than simply securing a grade. Yet, completing the requirements for the grade do take precedence over completing a meaningful project when completing a meaningful project is not the method of achieving the grade. Every professor is not skilled at scaffolding learning into a project that exemplifies your learning and development. Part of the discernment in college is figuring out which courses and which professors are good at this. Part of your budding expertise is the skill of scaffolding this and presenting it to each professor you encounter. In this way, you can create meaning in each course and produce another piece of the larger puzzle as your learning and development increase.

[This discussion continues here.]