Chapter 7: Interacting with Instructors and Classes


Figure 7.1
CAFNR – keith goyne_snr_eniv. sciences_0021 – CC BY-NC 2.0.



Where Are You Now?

Assess your present knowledge and attitudes.

Often Sometimes Seldom
1. I talk with my university instructors outside of class.
2. I participate in class discussions, ask questions in class, and volunteer to answer questions posed by my instructors.
3. I go to all my classes except when prevented by illness or an emergency.
4. I prepare for classes and make an active effort to pay attention and get the most from class lectures.
5. In lecture classes, I read other materials, check for phone messages or e-mail, and talk with friends.
6. I don’t sign up for classes when I hear other students say the instructor is boring or difficult.
7. I talk to my instructors in their offices only if I have a problem with a specific assignment.
8. I write effective, professional e-mails to my instructors when appropriate.
9. I am comfortable giving presentations in class and know how to prepare successfully.
10. When assigned to work with a group to give a presentation, I take the lead and help ensure everyone works together well in his or her specific roles.

Where Do You Want to Go?

Think about how you answered the questions above. Be honest with yourself. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your interactions with your instructors and other students at this time?

Not very effective Very successful
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

In the following list, circle the three most important areas in which you think you can improve:

  • Attending classes
  • Networking and studying with other students
  • Going to classes fully prepared
  • Interacting with instructors through e-mail and telephone calls
  • Paying attention in lecture classes
  • Resolving a problem with an instructor
  • Asking questions in class
  • Interacting with the instructor and students in an online course
  • Answering questions in class
  • Giving presentations in front of the class
  • Participating in class discussions
  • Creating and using visual aids in a presentation
  • Speaking with instructors outside of class
  • Working with a student group to give a presentation

Are there other areas also in which you can improve how you interact with instructors and other students to get the most out of your university education? Write down other things you feel you need to work on.




How to Get There

Here’s what we’ll work on in this chapter:

  • Understanding why it is so important to interact well with your instructors and participate in class
  • Understanding why it is essential to attend classes and actively engage in the learning process
  • Preparing for and being comfortable participating in class
  • Discovering the best communication practices for asking and answering questions in class
  • Staying active in lecture classes to increase your learning
  • Adapting your learning style when an instructor has a different teaching style
  • Building a relationship with an instructor outside of class and finding a mentor
  • Writing professional e-mails to instructors and others
  • Interacting with the instructor of an online course and coping with its difficult issues
  • Preparing for and delivering a successful class presentation
  • Working with other students on a group presentation

Interacting with the University Experience

Throughout this text you have been reading about how success in university depends on your active participation in the learning process. Much of what you get out of your education is what you yourself put into it. This chapter considers how to engage in the learning process through interactions with your instructors and other students. Students who actively interact with others in the educational experience are much more successful than passive students who do not.

Yet relatively few university students consistently interact with their instructors and other students in class. Typically only five to seven students in a class, regardless of the class’s size, do most of the participating. Why is that? If you’re just too shy, you can learn to feel comfortable participating.

Interacting with instructors and participating in class discussions with other students is among the most important steps you can take to make sure you’re successful in university. The real essence of a university education is not just absorption of knowledge and information but learning a way of thinking that involves actively responding to the ideas of others. Employers seek graduates who have learned how to think critically about situations and ideas, to solve new problems, and to apply traditional knowledge in new circumstances. And these characteristics come from active participation in the learning process.

Differences from High School

To understand why interaction is so important in university, let’s look again at some of the typical differences between high school and university instructors:

  • Many university classes focus more on how one thinks about a subject than on information about the subject. While instructors in some large lecture classes may still present information to students, as you take more classes in your major and other smaller classes, you’ll find that simply giving back facts or information on tests or in assigned papers means much less. You really are expected to develop your own ideas and communicate them well. Doing that successfully usually requires talking with others, testing out your thoughts against those of others, responding to instructors’ questions, and other interactions.
  • Instructors are usually very actively involved in their fields. While high school teachers often are most interested in teaching, university instructors are often more interested in their own fields. They may be passionate about their subject and want you to be as well. They can become excited when a student asks a question that shows some deeper understanding of something in the field.
  • University instructors give you the responsibility for learning. Many high school teachers monitor their students’ progress and reach out if they see a student not doing well. In university, however, students are considered adults in charge of their own learning. Miss some classes, turn in a paper late, do poorly on an exam—and you will get a low grade, but the instructor likely won’t come looking for you to offer help. But if you ask questions when you don’t understand and actively seek out your instructor during office hours to more fully discuss your ideas for a paper, then the instructor will likely give you the help you need.
  • Academic freedom is very important in university. High school instructors generally are given a set curriculum and have little freedom to choose what—or how—to teach. University instructors have academic freedom, however, allowing them to teach controversial topics and express their own ideas—and they may expect you to partake in this freedom as well. They have more respect for students who engage in the subject and demonstrate their thinking skills through participation in the class.


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