I appreciate that many professors do not feel comfortable pushing their students beyond the subject matter of a college course. I have no problem with that decision. I have simply made a different choice. I want to be more involved in the growth of my students. That is why I got into this profession. If I read a book, see a movie, or watch a television show that I think is worthwhile, I often email my students with a quick review, “I found this interesting for the following reasons. You might want to check it out. No points. No requirement. Just a suggestion.” I am especially likely to send that type message if the thing that caught my eye is outside the sphere of my subject matter. As a friend of mine recently said to me, “I want my students to be successful in living their lives, not just in accounting.” I could probably write 100 pages on that one sentence. What is within the responsibility of a professor?
Just yesterday, I sent the following email to the 28 juniors who will start my Intermediate Accounting II class in 10 days. I really want my students to get off to a strong start. I find messages early in the semester get more attention than those sent after months of working together.
I wanted to draw your attention to an article that was in the August 15, 2017, Wall Street Journal. On page A11 is a long article titled "The Smarter Ways to Study." Okay, many of the ideas are available with more explanation in the book I recommended earlier in the summer, Make It Stick, but this article is still interesting. I agree with the author that many students underachieve because they rely (almost obsessively) on poor study techniques. One section of that article in particular is worth repeating, "High-achieving students take charge of their own learning and ask for help when they're stuck, according to a 2017 study of 414 college students. Students who performed better sought out extra study aids such as instructional videos on YouTube. Those who asked instructors for help during office hours were more likely to get A's, but fewer than 1 in 5 students did so.” I added the emphasis here because I believe this assertion is true.
This message is not going very far outside of my subject matter. However, it does go beyond simply teaching accounting. Notice several aspects of this note.
--I want to help students have the tools to succeed. I am not relying on high school to have done this job. Many of my students do know how to study well but certainly not all of them do. I would prefer to address that problem now rather than after the first test.
--I want this note to show the students that I am on their side. I might be a demanding teacher but I try to make sure the message is clear that I am not the enemy. One of my favorite sayings is, “We are all in this together.”
--Students can get more information from either the Wall Street Journal article or the book Make It Stick. I am not doing the work for them. I am just making a suggestion and pointing them toward the available resources.
--Students too often credit success and failure with natural talent. “I am just not very good with numbers” is a lament that I have heard so often that it makes me want to gag. Before the semester starts, I want my students to realize that their study habits might play a big role in their doing well. I want them to forget about “talent,” “smarts,” “grade point average,” or “IQ.” With the right study habits, they can all make an A.
--From my perspective, the most controversial portion of this email is that I draw attention to the research findings that show that seeking help directly from the instructor is beneficial. As the article indicates, a vast majority of students will accept a low (even failing) grade rather than getting assistance from the teacher. That is nuts. By including that sentence (and putting it in italics), I will probably get more students who come by my office for help. That will take up my time. For a busy professor, that statement creates a bit of a quandary. I have chosen to include that information and even emphasize it. However, that choice has a cost. The assertion and the way I emphasize it might well improve the grade of several of my students this semester. That is great. But, it will likely take up some of my time. Professors are very busy people. In college teaching today, that is an extremely difficult choice.