After wearing the “hat” of teacher for 30+ years, to some it may seem a bit of downgrade to hear that I am a teaching assistant for a college course, but I could not be happier to enact this role. When Dr. Daniel Merson agreed to have me as his teaching assistant for HI ED 556: Higher Education Students and Clientele I was elated. It was a double slam dunk for me as I would get to use my teaching skills in helping to plan the weekly three hour class and also review what I found to be some of the most significant content of the College Student Affairs program.
When I was a student in this course just one year ago, I came to realize that my skills as an educator of students with disabilities could be used to help study aspects of persistence and retention in students. Through projects that I completed for the course, I found that equally as important to student achievement as academic skills were the non-academic inputs that students bring with them to college. I learned that traits such as resiliency, self-efficacy, and locus of control significantly influence how students navigate their academic journeys (Lotkowski, Robbins & Noeth, 2004). Many of these traits were lacking in students with whom I had previously worked. I also learned that students’ reasons for leaving college were as individual as the students themselves (Tinto, 1993). These lessons influenced the way I came to interact with students on my advising roster. For those students who were not achieving success, I recognized that many factors were at play. I realized that I was in a position to help uncover the interfering factors and assist the student in developing a plan for success. This course connected many dots for me, and I was excited to be able to be a part of this process for others.
Being in the course the second time around and sharing the role of instructor with Dr. Merson gave me the opportunity to read and process critical text and research articles a second time around. This strengthened my understanding of the the characteristics that students bring to college as well as the outcomes they are expected to achieve. But the most astonishing and salient outcome for me this time around was the observance of the degree to which the students themselves influence the class environment and the way in which learning occurs. When I was a student in this course, the vast majority of my peers were fellow full-time masters or doctoral candidates. It was a scholarly group, many of whom were required to take this course for their program. In Dr. Merson’s class, the vast majority of the students were either part-time doctoral candidates or non-degree students who took the course based on interest. At least three-fourths of the class also worked full-time. I find that this latter group brings a higher degree of engagement to class discussions. Their conversations have an aura of passion and excitement that I found lacking in the classmates with whom I shared the course. I bring up this point not be judgmental, but rather to illustrate that the composition of the class can influence the choice of pedagogical methods. This group thrives on small group discussions and sharing while my class thrived on sharing the results of scholarly research.
It has been very enlightening to be able to apply what I have learned about students to analyze two very different groups of students as they navigate a similar experience with the same course. The different inputs the two groups bring to a similar situation result in a different learning environment while working to achieve the same learning objectives or outcomes. Since a different instructor is teaching the course, that is a confounding variable to consider, but that is a topic for another day or should I say another blog entry?
Lotkowski, V.A., Robbins, S.B., & Noeth, R. J. (2004). The role of academic and non-academicfactors in improving college retention. ACT Policy Report. Retrievable online at: www.atc.org/research/policy/index.htlm.
Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving College: Rethinking the Cause and Cures of Student Attrition. Chicago: University of Chicago.